Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Jews, Napoleon and the Ottoman Empire: the 1797-9 Proclamations to the Jews

While campaigning in Israel in 1799 did Napoleon write one or more proclamations to the Jews? In our own century, historians are evenly divided. But, the deeper story is not simply whether he did so while in Israel, but also his earlier proclamations to the Jews, similarly issued as propaganda to destroy the Ottoman Empire. Thus, a neglected Ottoman-Turkish source says there was already in the Muslim year 1212 (1797-1798) a revolutionary proclamation inviting Jews to "establish a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل). Based on April 1799 reports from Constantinople, at least eleven European newspapers in May 1799 described a Napoleon proclamation inviting Jews to return to Jerusalem. This astonishing news was universally believed in 1799. Napoleon's evocation of aboriginal restoration echoed for decades in relation to an age-old People that for millennia always kept demographic and cultural ties to the Holy Land. There is also much to suggest that Napoleon perhaps wrote the 1798 "Letter from a Jew to His Brothers" calling on world Jewry to organize itself in order to ask France to negotiate with Turkey so that the Jews could return to their native land. Finally, first published in 1940 was a 1799 German-language translation of an alleged Napoleon letter recognizing the hereditary right of the "Israelites" to "Palestine."

Allen Z. Hertz was senior advisor in the Privy Council Office serving Canada's Prime Minister and the federal cabinet. He formerly worked in Canada's Foreign Affairs Department and earlier taught history and law at universities in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. He studied European history and languages at McGill University (B.A.) and then East European and Ottoman history at Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.). He also has international law degrees from Cambridge University (LL.B.) and the University of Toronto (LL.M.).


Jacques Godechot's important book, La grande nation, l'expansion révolutionnaire de la France dans le monde 1789-1799 (The Great Nation: The Revolutionary Expansion of France in the World) was first published in 1956. In a thoughtful review, University of Paris, Professor of French History, Marcel Reinhard observed with regard to the August 26, 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (April-June 1958):
The rights defined in 1789 were those of every man, of every citizen, and they were, despite some opposition, also recognized as applying to Jews and Blacks. And as such, they also passed onto the world stage. Thus, the concept of national sovereignty wasn't simply the privilege of the French nation, but was a natural and imprescriptible right recognized for every nation.
Reinhard's international assessment was not just an ex post facto judgment, but was often expressed in the 1790s. Then, it was integral to the key notion of la grande nation. This referred to the great French People which was literally big, because numbering 27 million at a time when the USA had only 5.3 million and the British Isles 15.7 million.

Ideologically, la grande nation was deemed to be, spiritually and materially, older brother to other fraternal Peoples, including the Jewish People. And, the Revolutionary French Republic was imagined as entitled to senior status in relation to other actual or imminent sister republics. These satellite States might potentially include a Jewish Republic (République judaïque or hébraïque) in the Holy Land, and maybe also revolutionary regimes in Ireland and Canada.

The modern comparison would be to the global leadership once claimed by Soviet Russia among Communist countries. Moreover, the Soviet Marxists judged the eventual global triumph of communism to be an historical necessity. So too, the 18th-century French revolutionaries believed that, both domestically and internationally, the march of history was inevitably in their preferred direction. According to Minister of External Relations, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (February 14, 1798): "It is the spirit of liberty that spreads itself happily in all the States of Europe, and which, it seems to me, must entirely conquer them in a few years."

Consider the example of the Corsican-born Greek Maniote, Dimo Stephanopoulos whom Napoleon sent as revolutionary emissary to the Morea (Peloponnese), then under Turkish rule. There, Dimo expounded at a late 1797 secret meeting, at Marathonissi in the Mani, with patriots from several parts of Greece. According to Dimo, the French Revolution had universal meaning (published late 1799):
Learn what has happened in the new Athens. The French People has destroyed its tyrants and has given itself laws. These laws propagate themselves with regard to all the Peoples. Man, they say, was born and must live in freedom (libre). We [the Peoples] are all equal and must constitute nothing less than a single family of brothers. [...] Buonaparte will come all the way to Constantinople to plant the tree of liberty.

Just as China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) brought an end to the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1978, so in November 1799 Napoleon terminated the decade-long French Revolution which had been bitterly anti-Roman Catholic. In France, some Catholics had stubbornly sustained regional insurrections against the French-Revolutionary regime, throughout the period of the Directory (1795-1799).

For both Deng and Napoleon, ending the revolution meant an astonishing ideological evolution over a relatively short period of time. In this context, Napoleon's views of Jews, Judaism and the Jewish People were significantly different during and after the French Revolution. As a revolutionary, Napoleon naturally recognized the peoplehood of the Jews, just as he did that of the Greeks. But once the French Revolution was over, he mostly lost interest in Jews as a sovereign People with an ancient homeland, inter alia, because ending the revolution famously meant reconciling with Roman Catholics. Certainly, Napoleon understood that the Roman-Catholic Church theologically despised Jews and has historically always wanted Jerusalem for itself. To the point, Catholics have for many centuries claimed that, by virtue of Jesus, they had become the real "people Israel," and thus there was no longer any divine covenant with Jews for the Holy Land (supersessionism).

Napoleon personally generated around 33,000 letters and myriad other papers. Although a great mass of his product survives, many items were lost in the normal course of events. In addition, for political and/or personal reasons, Napoleon was in the habit of purposely destroying or even falsifying documents. For example, First Consul Bonaparte ordered a great number of records removed from the archives in 1802. While he was Emperor (1804-1815), these and other documents were burned at his command, as in September 1807. Many of those disappeared pieces related to the 1798-9 Mideast campaign. Such destruction of historical material is directly pertinent, because his earlier expressions of sympathy for Jewish peoplehood and homeland became for the "Emperor of the French" an embarrassment to be cleverly spun, or even better, concealed and forgotten.

During the reign (1852-1870) of his nephew Napoleon III, some more of the uncle's documents were intentionally destroyed, including because they were judged to be strongly offensive to Roman-Catholic feeling. A Catholic (perhaps even ultramontane) perspective was consistently championed by the devout Empress Eugénie who regularly attended cabinet meetings. She would probably have seen any archival confirmation of Napoleon the Great's revolutionary proclamations promising Jews Jerusalem, as seriously damaging the Bonaparte dynasty's brand among Catholics in France, Europe and the Mideast. If so, such a political calculation would have been rational. At that time, many Catholics worldwide still strongly believed that Jewish emancipation domestically and Jewish peoplehood internationally were subversive French-Revolutionary principles attacking Christianity.

The very same logic had already been adopted by the Greek Orthodox Church -- not only with respect to Jewish emancipation, peoplehood and homeland -- but also with regard to the popular rights of the Greeks themselves. Thus, as early as 1798, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was energetically backing the Turks against pro-French, Hellenic revolutionaries like Rigas Feraios (Ρήγας Φεραίος). Let it be remembered that the reactionary Austrians arrested Rigas for "serious political crimes" and then heartlessly extradited him to Ottoman Belgrade, where the Turks killed him in June 1798.

Under the revolutionary slogan "liberty, equality and fraternity," the historic, inflammatory Rigas proclamation was printed in Vienna in Greek (1797) by the thousands, and then widely read in the Ottoman Balkans. But, not a single one of this original printing can be found today. Several thousand of these proclamations were destroyed by the Habsburg authorities. And, the Orthodox Church systematically collected and burned the printed Rigas proclamations found in the Ottoman Empire. All that is now left to us of the text of the famous Rigas proclamation stems from a single, handwritten, translation into German, preserved in the Austrian State Archives. Can we be surprised if, as explained below, Napoleon's proclamations to the Jews met a similar fate in the grim struggle between revolution and reaction?

Here our answer must also be informed by the Habsburg intelligence service, the Polizeihofstelle. On October 7, 1806, the Imperial Court Chamberlain and Police Minister, the arch-conservative Baron Joseph Thaddäus von Sumerau, ordered local officials throughout Austria to gather for eventual burning, all materials relating to the invitations to the synagogues of Europe, to send delegates to Paris for the February 1807 opening of Napoleon's Grand Sanhedrin. Did this special police operation perhaps also net some copies of Napoleon's earlier proclamations to the Jews? Or is this 1806 police effort just a contemporary example proving that, in those days, the Austrian security services did in fact set about systematically collecting and destroying Napoleon documents addressed to the Jews?


During the last one hundred years, there has been increasing argument over the authenticity and meaning of one or more wartime messages which the 29-year-old French Revolutionary General, Napoleon Bonaparte is alleged to have addressed to the Jewish People during his 1799 campaign in the Holy Land. This territory was then included within the 18th-century French understanding of Greater or Ottoman Syria where Napoleon himself judged "Jews were quite numerous."

Napoleon was hungry for glory. From youth invoking the names of the great men of ancient history, he regularly included the storied Achaemenid ruler Cyrus the Great (d. 530 BCE) who famously sent Jews back to their homeland and authorized the building of the Second Temple. "I am Cyrus," said former USA President Harry Truman in 1953 when, five years after the fact, he was trying to take full credit for creating the State of Israel. Exactly like Truman, the Napoleon of 1797-9 felt the weight of both history and posterity.

This probably made it easy for him to grasp that helping the Jews return to their ancestral homeland would be the kind of deed likely to win him lasting fame. Pertinently, Napoleon claimed to have (December 19, 1798): "respect for Moses and the Jewish People, the cosmogony of which takes us back to the earliest times," (respect pour Moïse et la nation juive, dont la cosmogonie nous retrace les âges les plus reculés).

Such deference to biblical Jews was exact counterpart to his respect for the ancient Greeks. In exile on Saint Helena (1815-1821), he reminisced about his revolutionary enthusiasm for freeing the Greeks: "What glory to him who will liberate Greece! His name will be engraved beside that of Homer, Plato and Epaminondas. I nourished such a hope when [in 1796-1797] I was fighting in Italy."

Significantly, the two different territories that had once been ancient Greece and the biblical "Land of Israel" (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬ Eretz Yisrael) were then both part of the Ottoman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. Also called Turkey, this State then dominated most of the Near and Mideast. It was ruled by the Ottoman Sultan who was importantly also the Sunnite Muslim caliph. Though ultimately mistaken, Napoleon was (August 16, 1797) dead certain that the Ottoman Empire would fall during his lifetime.

Napoleon's father Carlo Buonaparte
graduated in law from the University of Pisa.
The Buonapartes were a cosmopolitan, noble family that spoke

proper Italian and always kept ties with their ancestral Tuscany.

Man of the Mediterranean

Napoleon was a subject of King Louis XV, because just before Napoleon's birth (August 1769) in Ajaccio, France took control of the island of Corsica that for centuries had been linked with Genoa. But by origin "Napoleone" was ethnically 100% Italian, though eventually he became the most prominent French revolutionary. He was son of a noble Tuscan family that always kept ties to the Italian mainland. For example, his politically talented father Carlo and his older brother Giuseppe both graduated from the University of Pisa, where some Jewish students were also studying.

The circumstance that the Buonapartes were generally sophisticated and cosmopolitan matches the role of Italian as the main Mediterranean language of diplomacy from the 15th to the 17th century. In the 18th-century, Italian still plays a role in diplomacy, but remains the Mediterranean's principal, international language of navigation, coastal business, and translation; and even more so, immediately after 1789, when France's trade, merchant marine, and naval power are initially diminished due to prolonged revolutionary turmoil. From the late Middle Ages until the early 19th century, Italian is the "foreign" language most widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean, where it was one of the languages also used by Jews.

Napoleon's first language is Italian. Into his tenth year, his primary-school education is also in Italian. After seven years of nothing but French, he regains fluency in his mother tongue from 1787, during successive periods of leave on Corsica. There, he speaks and writes, also partly in Italian, during the revolutionary unrest of 1792. He spends 1796-7 fighting in Italy, where he has ample opportunity to use Italian. For example, probably originally written in Italian is his order appointing the members of the new Ancona municipality (February 10, 1797). By contrast, likely just for the official record is the later French translation (February 12, 1797) which carelessly omits two of the names. By 1798, Napoleon is at the very least virtually bilingual, as in Egypt, where he stipulates that secretary-interpreters can write to him in French or Italian (July 30, 1798).

The important point is that Napoleon grew up knowing much about the many different Peoples, languages and religions of the Mediterranean. Thus, he could not miss that Jews and Greeks were similar as storied, age-old Peoples, then living partly under Ottoman rule and partly in broader diaspora. From his revolutionary perspective, he was confident that, whether with regard to Greeks or Jews, the "spirit of liberty" ensured that national awakening was already on the horizon.

"All the religions are equal"

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was all about rejecting the heritage of the Middle Ages. Then, Western civilization had been literally synonymous with the Roman-Catholic Church. A true son of the Revolution, Napoleon in the 1790s was resolutely anticlerical. This mostly means that he strongly opposed the universalist pretensions of the Catholic Church. Thus, he vigorously championed the new idea that all the religions are equal, both internationally and domestically. This "equality" proposition is cosmetic, but logically accommodates the three fundamental, revolutionary propositions that all the particular, historical religions are equally: subject to the civil power; mistaken; and destined to be canceled by progressive enlightenment.

As First Consul, Emperor, and then in exile, Napoleon became markedly more respectful of Catholicism. But, the younger, revolutionary Napoleon ideologically imagined that growing international enthusiasm for the "spirit of liberty" would eventually sweep away the prejudice of longstanding religious attachments (August 16, 1797):
The fanaticism for freedom, which has already started to spread in [Orthodox] Greece, will be more powerful there than the fanaticism of religion. There, le grand peuple [the Revolutionary French Nation] will find more friends than will the [Orthodox] Russian people.
But, this younger Napoleon had underestimated the endurance and hostility of Greek Orthodoxy. For example, consider the Republic's brief occupation and annexation (1797-9) of the (formerly Venetian) Ionian Islands, off the coast of Greece. There, French revolutionaries openly scorned the illiteracy and superstitious, religious fanaticism of the mostly Orthodox population. And for their part, the Orthodox islanders were profoundly alienated by the sudden intrusion of revolutionary secularism. For example, they were scandalized that the French revolutionaries regularly refused last rites and were buried without crosses.

Sincere outrage was also sparked by revolutionary emancipation of the islands' Jews who were deeply despised by the local Christians, whether Orthodox or Catholic. Sent to Corfu to craft anti-Ottoman propaganda and to organize the provisional government, Antoine-Vincent Arnault reported back to Napoleon that antisemitism was exploited to spark reactionary resistance to French rule (September 16, 1797): "On Corfu, hatred for the Jews was used as a way to encourage the people to revolt," (à Corfou on avait tenté de porter le peuple à la révolte, en profitant de sa haine contre les juifs).

As General-in-Chief of France's Army of Italy, l'armée d'Italie (1796-7), Napoleon repeatedly pointed to the need for the Revolutionary French Republic to take control of Egypt. According to the London Evening Mail (July 15-18, 1798), Napoleon in 1797 borrowed all the Mideast books from the Milan Public Library. Despite such extensive study in both Italian and French, he was gravely mistaken in optimistically anticipating that France would be able to win the loyalty of Muslims, via enlightened, revolutionary government. Consequently, he was also wrong to think that he would easily find large numbers of Muslim recruits for his future Army of the East, l'armée d'Orient (September 13, 1797):
With [revolutionary] armies like ours, for which all the religions are equal -- Muslims, Copts, Arabs, idolators, etc. -- all of that is completely irrelevant; we would respect the one just like the others.
"All the religions are equal" was still his principle aboard his flagship sailing from Malta to Alexandria. Then, he instructed his troops to be tolerant and respectful of Islam, with significant comparisons that by design thrice referred to Judaism ahead of Christianity (June 22, 1798):
Act toward them [the Muslims] as we have acted toward the Jews and the [Roman Catholic] Italians; respect their muftis and their imams as you have the rabbis and the bishops. Have for the rites required by the Koran, for the mosques, the same tolerance that you have had for the convents, for the synagogues, for the religion of Moses and for that of Jesus Christ. The [ancient] Roman legions protected all the religions.
Just as in Greece, so too in the Mideast, Napoleon was eventually to learn some practical lessons about the stubborn staying power of religion. In July 1798, he arrived in Egypt thinking that it would be easy to co-opt Muslims with philo-Islamic proclamations and letters, and public ceremonies celebrating the Prophet Muhammad. But hard experience soon proved otherwise -- even though Napoleon:
  • recognized a special role for Islam in the government of Egypt;
  • repeatedly denied the divinity of Christ; and
  • notably tried hard to convince Mideast Muslims that he was other than another Catholic Crusader.
Later, on Saint Helena, his Italian-speaking, Irish physician, Barry Edward O'Meara significantly asked him about "his reasons for having encouraged the Jews so much." Napoleon replied in Italian, "There were a great many Jews in the countries I reigned over." As First Consul of the Republic, Napoleon had already told the Council of State (June 1801): "Quant aux juifs, c'est une nation à part," (as for the Jews, they are a nation apart). Answering O'Meara, Napoleon, speaking in Italian, notably still used the word "nation" (and also "tribe") for the Jews. But, he simultaneously saw them as fellow citizens practicing the religion of Judaism.

Such shared citizenship allowed Napoleon to segue to the topic of laïcisme, his revolutionary ideas about the separation of Church and State. Thus, O'Meara was privileged to listen to Napoleon, speaking in Italian, describe the secularist thoughts that best matched his anticlerical stance, with regard to Italy from 1796 to 1798 (first published 1822):
I wanted to establish a universal liberty of conscience. My system was to have no predominant religion, but to allow perfect liberty of conscience and of thought, to make all men equal, whether Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Deists or others. [...] My intention was to render everything belonging to the state and the constitution, purely civil, without reference to any religion. I wished to deprive the [Catholic] priests of all influence and power in civil affairs, and to oblige them to confine themselves to their own spiritual matters, and meddle with nothing else.
Napoleon's own propaganda organ, Le Courrier de l'Armée d'Italie, in August and September 1797, repeatedly opposed exclusive, dominant or special privileges for the Catholic Church which was tarred as fanatical and intolerant. In the same vein, Talleyrand (formerly a Bishop) explained to the Directory (November 5, 1797): "The disfavor in which the Catholic religion (le culte catholique) finds itself in [public] opinion is a natural consequence of the opposition which has always existed between it and the republican system."

Le Courrier de l'Armée d'Italie regularly advocated equality of all the particular "cults" (including Judaism) under the required supremacy of the secular law, as authorized by a republican constitution. This equality principle was also the cumulative effect of specific provisions that Napoleon had recently inserted in the Constitution of the Cisalpine Republic, with its capital in Milan. He signed the Cisalpine constitution on July 8, 1797, as "Bonaparte, in the name of the French Republic."

Therein, everybody had a new constitutional right to practice the religion of his own free choice. Compulsory financial contributions (tithing) to support any faith were prohibited. Religious ministers of all the cults were excluded from government, whether as legislators or officials. Nor could ministers of any faith exercise their religious functions, if by "demerit" they had lost the confidence of the revolutionary government. Ecclesiastical censorship was abolished. This last provision was extremely important in Italy, where the Catholic Inquisition was, during the 18th century, still arbitrarily banning, expurgating and revising Hebrew books and manuscripts.

Especially in the Italian context, these constitutional measures were breathtaking. Certainly, they provoked deep dismay and hot anger among many hundreds of thousands of reactionaries in Italy. These 1797 revolutionary reforms literally disempowered Italian Catholicism and thus suddenly enhanced the rights of Jews and Judaism; but only for a short time, until the widespread pogroms (1798-9) of the triumphant counter-revolution in Italy.

Jewish peoplehood as revolutionary rhetoric

The pertinent events occurred several years after revolutionaries had executed (January 21, 1793) Louis XVI, King of France. The contemporary context was the eve of the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802) pitting several European monarchies and the Ottoman Empire against the Revolutionary French Republic (la grande nation) and its satellite republics. Then, revolutionary and republican rhetoric still trumpeted the new political principle of the self-determination of Peoples. From 1798-9, there is detailed evidence that some prominent revolutionaries, exactly because they were doctrinally so hostile to the Catholic Church, were all the readier to see the Jews as an age-old and famous People "bent under the yoke of princes."

Under the government of the Revolutionary Directory, the influential Paris weekly La Décade philosophique was, ideologically, France's premier periodical. It was religiously read by the Republic's leadership and most certainly by Napoleon, who for a time carefully cultivated close relations with its editors and writers. Many of them were identified as among the intellectuals dubbed idéologues. They were also prominently represented in the new Institut National, where Napoleon was proudly a member from 1797.

During early 1798, Napoleon was mostly in Paris. On February 23rd, he suggested that "an expedition to the Levant to threaten the trade of the Indies" might perhaps be more feasible than an invasion of England. On March 5th, the Directory agreed that he would undertake the campaign in Egypt. On April 12th, he was officially appointed General in Chief of "the Army of the East," l'armée d'Orient. This, the official name of his command, was initially kept secret, in order to keep everyone guessing about his final destination. Thus, from late winter into spring, he was already in charge of every aspect of the great Egypt project, likely including preparation of pertinent propaganda. This communications effort was simultaneously aimed at advancing both his own political career and the foreign-policy goals of the Revolutionary French Republic.

Formerly a Roman-Catholic priest, Joachim Le Breton
was one of the editors of the highly influential journal
La Décade philosophique.

Likely party to the great secret that the French army would soon set sail for Alexandria was the former Catholic priest Joachim Le Breton. He was a senior official of the Ministry of the Interior, a member of the Institut National, and one of the editors of La Décade philosophique. He was then playing a prominent part in the government handling of the abundant art treasures that Napoleon had looted during his first campaigns in Italy (1796-7). Le Breton later supported Napoleon's coup d'État that ended the French Revolution (November 1799). With the fall of Napoleon's regime, Le Breton fled to Brazil, where he died in 1819.

Maybe at Napoleon's request, Le Breton hastened to write "Considerations on Egypt and Syria and the Power of the English in India." In the normal course, Napoleon might perhaps have first tried to entrust this task to his revered mentor, the famed Mideast expert and philosopher of history, Constantin Volney who was also a member of the Institut National. However, Volney had not yet returned from a three-year stay in the United States.

"Considerations on Egypt and Syria"

"Considerations" was a detailed, two-part article (signed "L.B." for Le Breton) published in La Décade philosophique on April 9th and 19th, 1798. The lengthy essay is based on geopolitical ideas that had long been discussed by 18th-century French diplomats. Le Breton's offering is nothing less than a strategic and moral justification (la mission civilisatrice) for the intended French invasion and colonization of Egypt and Greater Syria. Those two regions are specifically identified as new venues for large-scale European settlement, instead of the Americas. Napoleon too then thought that those two Mideast places ought to be extensively colonized by Europeans.

In this colonial connection, Le Breton believed that Jews had special attributes that could significantly help France in its global struggle against England (April 19, 1798):
Everywhere, they [Jews] display sobriety, persistence, industry, activity. They have capital and commercial connections. These qualities and these means are not utilized as efficiently as they might be for their own benefit and for the broader society. It is therefore worthy of the attention of an enlightened government to consider whether it would be easy to do better in this regard, and thereby get for itself both advantage and glory.
Le Breton fantasized that Jews were so rich that they would be capable of underwriting the cost of regenerating not only Syria but Egypt too: "Their fortunes are easy to transport; men and gold will flow; they will supply enough, not only to make industry flourish, but to meet the expenses of the revolution in Syria and Egypt."

With greater accuracy, Le Breton highlighted the Jewish People's longevity; and its enduring love for its aboriginal homeland, the city of Jerusalem and the site of the Temple. Indicting Christian bigotry, he portrayed the Jews as a long-persecuted People of perhaps three million. Referring to "the destiny of this people," Le Breton judged Jews capable of forming "the body of a nation" in "Palestine." To that place, "they would rush from the four corners of the globe if given the signal." They would be won over to "our Revolution" and forever grateful to France. Here, Le Breton's thinking was clearly inspired by the then prominent idea of la grande nation, though that particular phrase does not actually appear in the text.

Le Breton was perhaps following the playbook of the renowned French philosopher Voltaire. On July 6, 1771, Voltaire wrote a letter (published 1784) to the Empress Catherine of Russia who was waging war (1768-1774) against the Ottomans. Therein, Voltaire suggested that she use her influence with her Egyptian partner, the Mamluk potentate Ali Bey, "to have the temple of Jerusalem rebuilt, and there to recall all the Jews." Normally, Voltaire was sharply critical of both Jews and Judaism. Thus, his real intention was more likely to spite the Catholic Church, his usual target. Though Le Breton did not refer to Voltaire, he mentioned Ali Bey's alleged offer to sell Jerusalem to the Jews of Livorno.

As an ex-priest, Le Breton had to have known that, in returning devout Jews to their aboriginal homeland, the Revolutionary French Republic would (apart from anything else) be joining the revered Voltaire in mocking Catholic doctrine. This stipulated that mass conversion to Christianity was the prerequisite to the restoration of the Jews. For revolutionaries, it was a bonus that sending hundreds of thousands of authentic, unconverted Jews back to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) would outrage Catholics, by contradicting key Christian prophecy about the end of days.

The Paris daily l'Ami des Lois (June 8, 1798).
This newspaper was reputed to express the views of the
Revolutionary-French Government and to be
sometimes financed by the Ministry of the General Police.

Lettre d'un Juif à ses frères

The anonymous "Letter from a Jew to His Brothers" attracted much attention in both France and beyond, partly because it occupied (June 8, 1798) the whole front page of the daily newspaper l'Ami des Lois, known to be especially close to the Directory, and sometimes financed by the Ministry of the General Police. For example, l'Ami des Lois was recognized as "halb-offizielle" (semi-official) by the Allgemeine Zeitung of Munich (May 13, 1799).

World Jewry is encouraged to organize itself to ask France to negotiate with Turkey for establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem. That is the crux of this rather strange article, which is most probably government propaganda, principally designed to prepare the public for eventual receipt of the astonishing news of the French invasion of Egypt. Able to write in Italian, the unknown author is a clever, lateral thinker, who is skillfully able to kill four birds with one stone. Namely, the rhetoric here speaks to the dreams of France, revolutionaries, Christians and Jews.

We shall see that revolutionaries are the primary audience. However, Lettre d'un Juif is designed to simultaneously appeal to Jews and Christians, both of whom are expected to enjoy the reference to Jerusalem as "this sacred city" (cette cité sacrée).

Also with some resonance among Jews is the mostly Christian concept, "l'empire de Jérusalem" (the empire of Jerusalem). This millenarian expression is exploited to ensure that the imminent news of the French landing in Alexandria will spark thoughts, among Jews about return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬), and among Christians about the onset of the end of days.

Lettre d'un Juif could not have been completed before March 1798, because it refers to the birth of the Revolutionary Roman Republic (February 15th) and too perfectly dovetails with the new (March 5th) secret plan for the military occupation of Ottoman Egypt. To the point, Lettre d'un Juif is likely companion to this great official secret. Based on the generous personal attention that Napoleon had given to propaganda in Italy, we can guess that a key, strategic, government item like Lettre d'un Juif is maybe from his pen or perhaps prepared under his control, at some time before he sailed from Toulon on May 19th.

Readers of l'Ami des Lois are specifically told: "Be assured that the philosophy which guides the leaders of this sublime nation [the Revolutionary French Republic] would cause them to welcome our request." If not Napoleon, who is Anonymous that he can so authoritatively promise that France's rulers would approve the plan for Jewish return to the ancestral homeland?

Lettre d'un Juif highlights both "Israelites" and "Jews." Shifting terminology as to the name of this People does not distance us from Napoleon. To be noted is a March 1789 workbook where, in the space of a single page, young Napoleon uses all three of the terms: Hebrews, Israelites and Jews.

Lettre d'un Juif specifically says that it is "translated from the Italian" (traduite de l'italien). But, this explicit translation claim has been dismissed as a device for concealing the supposed fact that the original version is the French text, just as published. A possible motive for falsely alleging a translation from a foreign language might perhaps be to suggest that the writer is truly at arm's length from the French government. But if so, why arbitrarily choose Italian, when Hebrew would so obviously be a cover story more plausible and also more distant from the Directory and Napoleon? By contrast to such linguistic speculation, there is fair certainty that Napoleon was by 1798 practically bilingual, and therefore capable of writing Lettre d'un Juif, whether in French or Italian.

So, why would Napoleon opt to write the original version of Lettre d'un Juif in Italian? Firstly, he was unable to write in Hebrew. Secondly, he knew from personal experience that many Mediterranean Jews were able to read Italian which, in the 18th century, was still the commercial, coastal language of international business, all the way from Gibraltar to ConstantinopleThirdly, it is clear that Lettre d'un Juif was never intended to be exclusively for Jews, which also explains its prominent publication in French translation.

As we shall later see, Napoleon (starting no later than 1797) was from Ancona, already aiming revolutionary propaganda at all the subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire. In this clear communications context, revolutionary agents in mid-1798 were perhaps also circulating printed copies of the Italian original of Lettre d'un Juif, including to Jews of Italy, the Adriatic and the Ottoman Empire. In any event, Lettre d'un Juif 's Italian pedigree is key, because Napoleon's conquest of Italy has to play a big part in any attempt to solve the related riddle of his proclamations to the Jews.

Furthermore, the long history of Napoleon's propaganda reveals that he liked experimenting with various literary genres and voices. To the point, he relished role playing, including writing both for and from the parochial viewpoint of particular religions or nationalities. As in Italy, he occasionally penned anonymous items for insertion in various newspapers.

When Lettre d'un Juif was published in Paris on June 8th, it was widely known that Napoleon's invasion fleet was already at sea. But, its final destination was still a puzzle, with European speculation intense. Thus, the general public did not then know that Napoleon's ships were poised to take Malta, and thereafter destined for Alexandria. This news blackout was confirmed by the Neueste Weltkunde of Tübingen (July 24, 1798):
Two months have passed since Buonaparte set sail: and the world's expectation, the lack of knowledge about his real plan, is now just as great as at the moment of his departure. All that we can say to date, and even this only partially, is where he is not going -- not to Portugal, not to the British Isles: but the real target of his undertaking, which should astonish Europe, is still the best kept mystery.

Understanding Lettre d'un Juif requires sharp focus on the precise extent of the territory at issue in the text. Remarkably, this is not just a part of the "Holy Land" (la Terre sainte), but notably also "lower Egypt" (la basse Égypte). The latter country was then ruled by Mamluk Beys who paid lip service to Ottoman suzerainty. According to Lettre d'un Juif:
The territory which we [Jews] propose to occupy will include, subject to arrangements that will be agreeable to France, lower Egypt (la basse Égypte), with the territory bounded by a line that will depart from Ptolémaïde or Saint-Jean d'Acre to the Lake of Asphalt, or the Dead Sea, and from the southern point of this lake as far as the Red Sea.
Lettre d'un Juif 's striking inclusion of two key elements, namely "la basse Égypte" and proposed Franco-Ottoman negotiations reveals an underlying truth. Anonymous is probably a powerful, regime insider who writes Lettre d'un Juif inspired by the top secret knowledge that the Nile Delta is the French fleet's final destination, and that the invasion is expected to trigger early Constantinople talks for Ottoman approval of France's rule in Egypt.

At that time, Talleyrand was already secretly telling the Directory that, in return, France could promise to help the Turks reconquer the Crimea from Russia. Before leaving France (May 19, 1798), Napoleon sincerely believed that Talleyrand would soon go to Constantinople to convince the Turks that the French role in Egypt served the true interests of the Ottoman Empire.

Maybe written by Napoleon himself, Lettre d'un Juif is fully auxiliary to a complex French plan of attack, and subsequent diplomacy. Its ostensible purpose is to revolutionize Jews generally, and to get them to financially support France's Mideast project. But, the urgent subtext is finding some added revolutionary justification for what would otherwise be nothing more than a cynical scenario for French gain in Egypt. Such additional revolutionary pretext would help make France's Mideast expansion morally praiseworthy.

Further moral justification was all the more necessary, because there had been some sharp criticism of the ruthless Realpolitik in the October 1797 Treaty of Campo-Formio. There, Napoleon had bought peace with France's hereditary enemy, the Habsburgs, via extinction of the age-old Republic of Venice and the partitioning with Austria of the various Venetian territories.

However, this time Realpolitik would not be buying peace, but rather mounting an unprovoked French attack on distant Egypt. Thus, additional revolutionary pretext was urgently needed to paint this imminent aggression as something other than a reprehensible land grab. Certainly to be avoided at all costs was comparison with the infamous partitions of Poland, the last of which had occurred as recently as 1795.

The shocking extinction of Poland still featured as blameworthy in Talleyrand's arguments for the Directory (February 13, 1798). This must have occurred to Napoleon too, because thousands of veterans of the failed Polish revolution had joined his Army of Italy. In Milan, there had been "a gathering of Poles around Buonaparte," wrote the Paris daily newspaper, Le Conservateur (September 28, 1797). Therein articulated was the sacred, revolutionary goal, "Poland rendered free and a republic." In Lettre d'un Juif, Anonymous wants readers to view his plan for return of the Jews, as a laudable revolutionary aim, just like the idea of restoring Polish independence. Poland does not feature in the text but is key revolutionary context.

Chock full of judaica is the April 19th article in La Décade philosophique, by ex-priest Le Breton. By contrast, Lettre d'un Juif boldly doubles world Jewish population to an improbable six million, and suspiciously lacks much convincing information about Jews, Judaism and Jewish history. The period from mid 1795 until early 1798 is mostly a positive moment for the Jews of Western Europe. By contrast, Lettre d'un Juif portrays Jews as little more than a cardboard caricature of unrelenting victimhood.

Moreover, what 1799 Jew would write an appeal to world Jewry in Italian instead of Hebrew; pen a document bisecting the sacred, historic territory of Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬), with a straight line running from Acre to the Dead Sea; and describe Jews as possessing "immense riches," but outwardly pretending to be poor and miserable in order to guard their wealth? Thus, we have to seriously doubt that Lettre d'un Juif is really written by a Jew.

Like Napoleon, Anonymous has a passion for antiquity that prompts him to thrice salute the "courage" of the ancient Jews (66-73 CE) who were finally forced to yield the "Holy Land" to the Romans. This reiterated compliment matches Napoleon's penchant for publicly praising classical heroes. "This courage is only dormant, the hour of awakening has arrived." Here, Anonymous shares Napoleon's firm belief that the Peoples of the world are now being roused from sleep by the spirit of liberty, which revolutionaries regarded as the great force of the age.

Also invoked is the "horrific memory" of the grim siege of Jerusalem (70 CE). For this remark, did Anonymous rely on History of the Jewish War, by the first-century commander and historian, Yosef ben Matityahu (Flavius Josephus)? If so, take note that Napoleon was certainly familiar with this famous Jewish work.

Napoleon's writing frequently invokes classical antiquity as a companion to expressions of patriotic and revolutionary enthusiasm. In the same way, Lettre d'un Juif segues to fervent commitment to the notion of France as la grande nation, though that specific phrase is lacking. "Generous", "sublime" and "loyal" are adjectives which Anonymous selects to flatter France. He sees global relations, with France as the "invincible nation which now fills the world with its glory."

Anonymous suggests that, to its great financial and commercial advantage, France should mediate between Turks and Jews and, via smart diplomacy, win the consent of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III for the return of the "Israelites." Based in both Egypt and the Holy Land, "Jews" are expected to play an outsized role in international trade, and to importantly help France blunt England's worldwide economic advantage. We shall soon see some proof (in connection with Ancona, Alexandria and France) that Napoleon too thought Jews to be an important stimulus to international trade.

In this three-party transaction, Anonymous imagines world Jewry to be represented by a proposed council of 15 Jews who would meet in Paris. They would be deputies selected by the various Jewish communities "in Europe, in Asia, in Africa." Such rythmic invocation of the names of the continents recalls Napoleon whose writing repeatedly has such exciting references to expansive geography. Identically with 15 members was the Ancona municipal council that Napoleon had invented in February 1797. Moreover, Anonymous's plan for a Paris-based Jewish council, empowered to make binding decisions, is so strikingly similar to Napoleon's blueprint for the Grand Sanhedrin (1807), which he had wanted (August 23, 1806) open to Jews of all countries.

Just like Le Breton, Anonymous prejudicially presumes that Jews possess "immense riches" and the ability to generate still more wealth to share with France and its traders:
Situated in the center of the world, our [Jewish] country will become the entrepot for all that is rich and precious. If France furnishes us with the help that will be necessary for us to return to and remain in our homeland, the [Jewish] council will offer the French government, firstly, financial compensation, etc. And, secondly, to share only with French merchants the trade of the Indies.

Mediating in Constantinople for control of Egypt and creation of a Jewish government in Jerusalem made some sense when Lettre d'un Juif was published. Then, both Napoleon and Talleyrand were still calculating that the imminent seizure of Mamluk Egypt could be achieved, without the Ottomans declaring war against France. Who before August 1, 1798 could foresee that on that day British Admiral Horatio Nelson would almost completely annihilate the French Fleet in Aboukir Bay?

Nelson's naval victory was a staggering blow not only to France's prestige but also to its capability in the Mediterranean. The Sultan's strategic calculus was dramatically altered. After Aboukir Bay, Turkey dared to actively wage war against France, with the aid of Russia and Britain. But, in the first half of 1798, Napoleon and Talleyrand were arguably rational in judging that Selim III would avoid fighting. They knew that the Ottoman ruler feared France's ability to project power all the way to Constantinople, and that he was too busy trying to suppress the great Balkan rebellion of the Pasha of Vidin, Osman Pasvanoğlu.

Lettre d'un Juif has an underlying agenda more focused on Egypt than the Holy Land. Napoleon and Anonymous both think geopolitically. Just like Napoleon, Anonymous understands the Holy Land as, strategically and commercially, part of the larger land bridge between the Red and Mediterranean Seas, and between the Asian and African continents. This means that the Holy Land is also the key eastern gateway to Egypt. Though France had long coveted Egypt, Lettre d'un Juif slyly reverses everything by cleverly subordinating Egypt to the Holy Land.

Readers are thoroughly distracted with the striking, apocalyptic term l'empire de Jérusalem. This millenarian expression is eminently convenient, because no such entity ever existed. Thus, there are no historic boundaries. This particular aspect of borderlessness is key for Anonymous, who spectacularly includes Egypt within l'empire de Jérusalem. He thereby associates his plan for restoration of the Jews with the main underlying idea -- namely, France will negotiate with the Ottomans about the future of Egypt. This crucial point about subsequent negotiation in Constantinople dovetails with the great State secret of the spring of 1798. Just like Napoleon, Anonymous seems to already know that France will negotiate, after first seizing Egypt by force of arms, with firm intent to colonize it, and hold it permanently as a revolutionary republic, satellite to la grande nation.

Anonymous shrewdly senses that Egypt also has heavy prophetic weight. To the point are the portentous events generally seen to herald the Redemption of the Jews and/or the Second Coming of Christ. The first prophetic sign is France's toppling of the Papal power. This Rome story is probably the single biggest news item of the first half of 1798. Octogenarian Pope Pius VI is carried away from the Vatican. Anonymous thus cleverly presumes that many across Europe are ready to receive news of the French invasion of Egypt as the second prophetic sign, the end of Muslim rule in the Mideast. For rabbis, these two omens are harbingers of Redemption; and for Protestant theologians, of the Second Coming. For example, see what "X" writes to the editor of the Gentlemen's Magazine of London about Egypt (September 1799):
It seems of little consequence whether we look for the rivers of Cush to the East or West of Judea, if the nation, by whose instrumentality the Jews are to be restored to the land of their forefathers, ... shall, at the time of the fulfilling of this prophecy, have the dominion over Egypt, and all those countries where Mahometanism is at present established.

Calling for l'empire de Jérusalem, Anonymous is probably savvy about Christian eschatology. He is likely aware that l'empire de Jérusalem features mostly in Christian millenarian discussion about the end of days. Thus, he purposely uses l'empire de Jérusalem to suggest to Christians everywhere that France would be doing God's work, by realizing famous prophecies about the restoration of the Jews. In Christian doctrine, the conversion and return of the Jews is prelude to the Second Coming of Christ, the parousia (παρουσία).

In a bow to Christianity, Anonymous uses four dots to avoid having to reveal that an appreciable number of observant Jews are already living in Jerusalem and the other Jewish communities in the Holy Land: "14. Tribu Asiatique. Ceux qui habitent la Turquie d'Asie ....," (14. Asian Tribe. Those who inhabit Turkey in Asia ....). Significantly, no such dots for omission, mark the sometimes detailed descriptions of the fourteen other constituencies for electing the proposed Jewish Deputies.

Anonymous is supremely confident that revolutionaries do not care whether or not some practicing Jews are already living in Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). He also knows that Jews themselves will automatically fill in the dots, with their own certain knowledge of the Holy Land Jews who for centuries were supported by the halukka (Heb: חלוקה) regularly paid by diaspora Jews, almost everywhere.

The author of Lettre d'un Juif is sure that Jews will devour his text with minds firmly focused on their millennial dream of return to "la patrie" (the homeland), Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). Thus, he declaims: "We are going to return to our homeland. We are going to live under our own laws. We are going to see the sacred sites that our ancestors made famous by their courage and their virtues."

As for revolutionaries, they are expected to see l'empire de Jérusalem, as birth of a new republican jurisdiction -- the inauguration of some sort of local Jewish rule, dominion or government. Anonymous relies on revolutionaries to faithfully interpret l'empire de Jérusalem as a sister Jewish Republic, la République judaïque. This startling term "Jewish Republic" does not appear in Lettre d'un Juif, but features for example in the Directory's mouthpiece, the Paris daily newspaper, Le Moniteur (August 3, 1798). Such a République judaïque would invariably follow the lead of la grande nation, because entirely dependent on France.

And, the Jewish Republic would not be the only French satellite in the Mideast. For example, below we shall see that, when Lettre d'un Juif was published, efforts were already underway to exploit the strong ethno-religious feelings of Maronites and Druze in the Lebanon, in order to further enhance France's future security in Egypt. In this connection, the famous mathematician and revolutionary statesman, Gaspard Monge sent Napoleon a letter covering a petition from Rome-based Maronite monks (March 28, 1798):
You will see, Citizen General, just how useful it may be for the interests of the French Republic to keep friends in Mount Lebanon, and whether the Directory might now do for them more than we thought permitted to us in the past.
At that time, Napoleon was a well-known opponent of the Catholic Church. However, Mideast Catholics like the Maronites were practically an exception, because still regionally useful as traditional protégés of France.

By contrast, the rigorous anti-Catholicism required by revolutionaries is expressed in Lettre d'un Juif 's relatively tactful indictment of "barbarous and intolerant religions" for preaching hatred towards Jews. The revolutionary response to such persistent persecution is, for Anonymous, a national program of liberty that would see the Jewish People return to its ancestral homeland:
The generous constancy with which we have preserved the faith of our ancestors, far from attracting to us the admiration which was our due, only increased the unjust hatred which all the nations hold against us. [...] It is finally time to shake off such an unbearable yoke, it is time to resume our rank among the nations. [...] The hour of awakening has come. Oh my brothers! Let us reestablish the empire of Jerusalem (l'empire de Jérusalem).

"Lettre d'un Juif" seen from abroad

In 1798, Lettre d'un Juif is generally taken seriously and understood as linked to Napoleon and the Directory. For example, pointing to nothing more than Lettre d'un Juif, the Paris newspaper Le Propagateur concludes (June 9): "The Jews regard Bonaparte as their Messiah." A faulty summary in the Paris newspaper La Feuille Universelle (June 9) creatively attributes authorship of Lettre d'un Juif to an unknown Italian Jew called "Mathéo." This causes the Evening Mail (June 15-18) to initially miss the key aspects of the Directory, Napoleon, and Egypt.

However, the Hamburgische Neue Zeitung (June 20, 1798), via juxtaposition, implies that Jews financed Napoleon's Toulon expedition.  Lettre d'un Juif is understood as detailing "a new, great project to be undertaken by the Jews." Those particular words, plus a detailed account of Lettre d'un Juif, suggestively follow directly after a few lines describing a boast by Napoleon in Paris that enough money for the Toulon expedition is available five times over.

The Paris press was regularly scrutinized in London, where the Lloyd's Evening-Post offers some canny analysis that directs a prescient eye to Egypt (June 25-27, 1798):
A report has lately circulated, with some degree of credit, that the intention of the French, in the late expedition from Toulon, is to attempt the restoration of the Jews. The idea has probably originated in a curious article contained in one of the last Paris Journals, purporting to be a plan for the re-establishment of the Empire of Jerusalem, under the aid and protection of the French. [...] The Jews are to receive their country from the Great Nation, and to become its tributaries. The conquest of Egypt was always a favourite idea, even under the old Government of France; it was at one time actually debated in Council, and was only negatived by the Count de Vergennes.
There is no doubt about Lettre d'un Juif 's official character in the Morning Chronicle and the Evening Mail, both of which (July 16, 1798) reprint verbatim the following paragraph from the St. James's Chronicle of London (July 12-14, 1798):
The French project of a Jewish Republic, however absurd and impracticable it may appear at the first blush, requires the utmost vigilance of the European Governments. The wealth and numbers of the Jews in Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and England, if put into political motion, would be felt throughout Europe. It fortunately happens that the Jews are too sagacious a people to place their property under French protection.
Lettre d'un Juif is translated as "Restoration of the Jews: Letter from a Jew to his Brethren" in the St. James's Chronicle (July 14-17, 1798). This integral text convinces the astute Anglican preacher Henry Kett that "re-establishing the Jews in their own land" is well and truly a French government project. Therefore, he writes, History, the Interpreter of Prophecy. This three-volume bestseller, from Oxford University Press, wrestles with the possibility that the Revolutionary French Republic might unwittingly be God's instrument for "the restoration of the ancient chosen people of God to the land which He gave to their fathers" (1799):
Granting therefore that the Power of France should execute this project, instead of invalidating, it will confirm the truth of Prophecy, and afford another signal example of the over-ruling providence of God. The wicked and blaspheming Assyrian was the rod of His anger and executed [721 BCE] His judgments upon His people. The tremendous Anti-Christian Northern Power [France] which has been raised up to be the scourge of nations, shall "fulfill His will, though in his heart he means not so." The restoration of the Jews may be a part of their commission; and there are some reasons which make this not a very improbable supposition...
Ignoring Egypt but indicting the Directory, the following paragraph is printed verbatim in both the Evening Mail (July 18-20, 1798) and the St. James's Chronicle (July 19-21, 1798):
The project of the French to assemble the Jews in Palestine, with a view of restoring their ancient Republic, and of re-building Jerusalem, is not quite so absurd as it may appear at first sight. It will supply the Directory with many a specious pretense for extorting money, not only from those of that Nation, who believe in the re-establishment of the ancient Republic of the Jews, but also from those who, more attached to their private interest, or less credulous than the former, do not wish to quit their establishments in the land of the infidels. For who knows whether France does not intend to force all the Jews resident in her vast dominions, to proceed to Palestine, or to sell them the permission of remaining where they are. This measure would be perfectly analogous to the whole Directorial system of plunder. 
Such sharp critique prompts the Neueste Weltkunde (August 11, 1798) to astonishment that "the English ministerial press" takes Lettre d'un Juif so seriously (für vollen Ernst). By contrast, the Neueste Weltkunde judges that Lettre d'un Juif is nothing more than banter (Persiflage). But, in London, the Morning Post and Gazetteer dissents (September 26, 1798): "Who will now treat the idea of restoring the Jews with ridicule? Buonaparte has already conquered Egypt and Palestine, and the slightest effort would reduce Palestine under his power."

Hopes high till French fleet sunk in Aboukir Bay

When Le Breton's article and Lettre d'un Juif were published, Napoleon had already implemented key revolutionary ideology by emancipating the Jews of Italy. He had abolished the ghettos (1796-7) during his spectacular conquest of the Italian peninsula and the Venetian islands of the Ionian Sea, close to Greece. Suddenly, Jews in Italy and on the Ionian Islands got equal rights of citizenship and immediately began participating in the new order as soldiers, sailors, officials, envoys, emissaries, agents and spies.

In the late 1790s, the revolutionary press was mostly philosemitic. The tendency was to portray Jews positively, including as soldiers and sailors fighting for the cause of the Revolutionary French Republic. This aspect was confirmed by Napoleon on Saint Helena. There, speaking Italian, he told O'Meara that emancipating the Jews had provided him with "many soldiers." For better or worse, Jews were then perceived to be partisans of the Revolution which was, at the same time, characteristically anti-Catholic.

Erfolgte Kapitulation zwischen dem General Bonaparte und dem Groß Meister
von Maltha, Vor der Hauptstadt Waletta zu Maltha, am 10. Juni 1798

[Successful surrender between General Bonaparte and the Grand Master
of Malta, in front of the capital Valletta on Malta, on June 10, 1798.]

Napoleon truly astonished the Mediterranean world by taking the mighty island fortress of Malta from the Roman-Catholic Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (June 1798). The impact was all the greater because, for centuries, the Knights had been infamous slavers capturing Muslims, Orthodox Greeks, and Jews. These unfortunates were sold, ransomed or kept to row the Maltese galleys.

"May its name be wiped out!" was the accustomed rabbinic malediction for the Malta of the Knights of Saint John. From the 17th century, there was a Jewish prophecy that the final defeat of these Knights would be the first sign of Redemption. Such messianic thoughts were naturally stimulated by Napoleon's quick victory; his expulsion of the Knights from Malta; his dramatic freeing of the slaves, Jews too; and his establishment of Jewish civic rights, including the right of local Jews to freely practice Judaism in their own synagogue.

From Malta, Napoleon wrote in French to the commissary of the Revolutionary Republic in the newly-annexed, and so provocatively-named, French Département de la Mer-Égée (Department of the Aegean Sea). This French official was specifically ordered to inform the population of his département about the great victory of the Republic (June 14, 1798): "Also don't forget any means to publicize it to the Greeks of the Morea and the other [Ottoman provinces]." This order provoked quick action, because the Neueste Weltkunde reported (August 14, 1798):
The aforementioned département issued a June 20th proclamation to the Greeks where, among other things, it was said: "French Greeks, Greeks of the Morea, descendants of the heroes of antiquity! Answer freedom's call which rings out along your shores! Buonaparte is in the Mediterranean. What is it that you cannot hope and await?"
A month later, the French Embassy in Constantinople noted a directly-related conversation with the Phanariote Dragoman of the Porte, who held the second most important post in Ottoman foreign affairs (July 25, 1798):
Prince [Constantine] Ypsilanti showed to Citizen [Michel Ange Louis] Dantan [the French Dragoman] an Italian letter which this general [Napoleon] wrote from Malta to the Greeks of the Département of the Aegean Sea, and in which he invites them to announce the freedom (la liberté) of the Maltese, to the Greeks of the Peloponnese as a prelude to their own. "As dragoman of the divan," he added, "I cannot approve of the ambitious views of Citizen Bonaparte regarding Ottoman territory; but as a Greek, I curse a boastfulness that will cost the lives of more than 10,000 Greeks, ready to be massacred by the Turks."

Among Mediterranean Jews and Greeks, Napoleon's string of stunning victories increasingly triggered a soaring expectation that only climbed still further with his conquest of Ottoman Egypt from the local Mamluks (July 1798). National dreams of the early arrival of "liberty and equality" were fast rising until news spread of the virtual annihilation of Napoleon's fleet at Aboukir Bay (August 1, 1798). For example, Le Moniteur carried a July 21st report from London (August 3, 1798):
The Jews see the French Republic as the veritable messiah that was promised to them. In this regard, they cite Isaiah who revealed that, upon appearance of such and such signs, there would be rebirth of the Jewish Republic (République judaïque) and of the new architecture of the city of truth [Jerusalem], as the solemn meeting place of all the oppressed beings of the universe.
The French naval disaster in Egypt ended an exceptional period of growing anticipation when Napoleon was seen by many Jews as Messiah and by many Greeks as a second Alexander, destined to soon conquer Constantinople and liberate Turkey's subject Peoples. During that interval of heightened excitement, keen revolutionary hopes were purposely fed by Le Moniteur which persistently published reports of real or imagined rebellions, and several times predicted the imminent fall of the Ottoman Empire.

George Arnald (1827), end of the great French flagship L'Orient
at the Battle of Aboukir Bay, August 1, 1798.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Revolutionaries reach the Balkan Lands

Regarding both secret agents and the conduct of France's foreign relations, legislator and diplomat François Barbé-Marbois in Paris told the upper chamber, le Conseil des Anciens (June 26, 1797):
The most important operations are consummated, not in his [Minister of External Relations] offices, but rather under the tent of the generals of the Republic. That is to say, it is the bayonet that cuts the quills of our policies, and it is the War Department that picks up the expense of our negotiations.
From mid 1797, General Bonaparte became the Ottoman Empire's next-door neighbor in the region of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas -- pertinently including Ancona (Italy); the Ionian Islands; and enclaves on the Balkan coast at Butrinto, Parga, Preveza and Vonizza. There, la division française du Levant (French division of the Levant) was under the command of Napoleon as General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy. Napoleon shared his strategic insight with the Directory (August 16, 1797):
The islands of Corfu, Zante and Cephalonia are of greater interest for us than all of Italy combined. I believe that, if we were forced to choose, it would be better to restore Italy to the [Habsburg] Emperor and keep the four islands which are a source of wealth and prosperity for our commerce. The empire of the Turks is crumbling day by day; the possession of these islands will put us in a position to support it as long as that will be possible, or to take our share of it.
Napoleon's mouthpiece Le Courrier de l'Armée d'Italie described his signature (October 18, 1797) of the Treaty of Campo-Formio with Austria (November 4, 1797):
It is said that the French Republic also acquires Corfu, Zante, Cephalonia, Cerigo and several parts of the territory of Venetian Albania, adjacent to these islands. This new situation opens more than a hope for the future.
Soon, the Ottoman Near East was swarming with French agents and awash in revolutionary propaganda, as 1797-8 reports to Constantinople from Turkish regional officials repeatedly indicated. In this regard, Le Moniteur confirmed the Sultan's worst fears (February 13, 1798): "Sudden revolution [in the Ottoman Empire] will be the fruit of Greek-language writings which arrive in profusion and which are distributed among the People to prepare them for a great change."

In 1797-8, Livorno, Rome, Pisa and Venice had Hebrew-language presses and Jewish typesetters ready to meet the needs of the new revolutionary order. Moreover, Napoleon was then personally directing the positioning of presses, equipped with characters for printing propaganda in French; Italian; Greek; Arabic; and also in Ottoman-Turkish, which notably was then the predominant language of government across the Near and Mideast.

From Mombello, Napoleon ordered his fellow Corsican, the Italian-speaking General Antoine Gentili to mount a secret expedition to quickly seize the Venetian island of Corfu. He also suggested that Gentili take along with him five or six Corsican officers also able to speak Italian and accustomed to how things worked on the islands of the Mediterranean (May 26, 1797):
If the inhabitants of the country are well disposed to independence [from Venice], you are to flatter their taste. Do not fail to speak of [ancient] Greece, Athens and Sparta in the various proclamations which you will make.
In connection with this propaganda work, Napoleon added that he was sending "distinguished man of letters" Arnault to Corfu to: provide Napoleon with detailed reports about the situation of the Ionian Islands and the adjacent coast; help organize the civil administration; and assist Gentili in "the production of manifestos," designed to stir revolutionary feeling in the Ottoman Balkans. To the point, Napoleon wrote from Milan to Arnault (July 30, 1797):
I want you to start Greek-language printing on Corfu, from where you will establish your communications with the Maniotes, and with Albania via the enclaves that we possess there. In this way, we can from time to time circulate there, some writings that might enlighten the Greeks and prepare the renaissance of freedom (la liberté) in this most interesting part of Europe.
Thus, a press dispatched to Corfu printed a proclamation in Greek and Italian, announcing that "with the establishment of a press, those kings still sitting on their shaky thrones tremble, their iron yoke has been lifted from off the necks of the people by revolution." That same press was soon used to print, pertinently in Italian, the lectures (discorsi) delivered in the synagogue on Corfu. Italian was one of the languages commonly used by Italian and Adriatic Jews, and also easily read by many Jews of Salonika, the Aegean Islands, and other places of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Close ties between Italian and Ottoman Jewry

The nature of the link between Jews of Italy and those of the Ottoman Empire was specifically described by Le Breton in La Décade philosophique (April 19, 1798):
I take it from a citizen who was employed with distinction in the ports and cities of the Levant, and who merits full trust, that the Jews of Livorno, having recognized in the detachment of the Army of Italy which occupied that city, a child of the synagogue honored with the rank of French officer, were so taken with it to the point of enthusiasm that they expressed their joy to the Jews of the [Greek] Archipelago and that this little circumstance caused the latter to love our revolution.

In 1797-8, Napoleon did not trumpet his dramatic liberation of the Jews of Italy. Thus, in explaining the important links between Italian and Ottoman Jewry, Le Breton missed the far more powerful example provided by Napoleon's conquest (February 9, 1797) of the city of Ancona on the Adriatic coast of Italy. This is described in detail in the contemporary Sepher Ma'ase Nissim (ספר מעשה נסים) of Rabbi Jacob Cohen. The English title is Hebrew Chronicle About the Jews of Ancona During the Years 1793-1797, published in the Hebrew language in 1982 by Daniel Carpi.

Rabbi Cohen writes that, when Napoleon arrived, Jewish soldiers of the French Revolutionary Army were immediately sent to protect the local Jews, and to abolish the curfew and all the other demeaning restrictions of the ghetto, which was home to around 1,600 Jews. Established were Jewish freedom of movement at all hours and the valuable right to site a business outside the ghetto. Furthermore, these proud Jewish soldiers of France's Army of Italy got local Jews to wear the tricolor revolutionary cocarde, instead of the yellow "badge of disgrace" that had recently been rigorously reimposed by the reactionary Roman-Catholic Church. Encouraged by Brigadier-General Louis Emmanuel Rey, the Jews of Ancona planted a liberty tree.

To govern Ancona and the surrounding villages, Napoleon replaced oppressive papal rule with a new 15-member municipal government (municipalità), to which he spectacularly appointed three local Jews from distinguished families (February 10, 1797). Like the other members of the municipalità, Sanson Costantini, and David and Ezzacchia Morpurgo had to swear allegiance to the Revolutionary French Republic. This they did at noon on February 11, 1797, in the presence of General Jean-Jacques Bernardin Colaud-de-la-Salcette.

Rabbi Cohen also records that, in the local synagogue, grateful Jews celebrated with the biblical "Song of the Sea," which thanks God for saving the Israelites from the Egyptians. "For the glory of the French army" a light was placed in the window of every Jewish home in Ancona. In early July 1797, General Claude Dallemagne, the town commandant, ordered the municipalità to admit young Jewish men to serve in the civil guard (guardia civica). For the first time, the children of Ancona Jews studied alongside those of the Christians.

In 1797, Napoleon repeatedly testified that Ancona was key in terms of strategy, logistics, and trade. For example, he wrote from Ancona to the Directory (February 10, 1797):
The city of Ancona is the only port along the Adriatic coast after Venice. From all viewpoints, it is very essential for our communications with Constantinople. Within 24 hours one can go from here to Macedonia. Even though they obeyed it, no government was so despised by the Peoples (les Peuples) as this [papal] one here. After the first emotion of fright that was caused by entry of an enemy army, there followed the joy of being delivered from the most ridiculous of governments.
Prominent among the various "Peoples" that Napoleon found in Ancona were the Jews. They were especially well-connected. Culturally and commercially, they were significant in 18th-century Italian and Mediterranean Jewry.

Revolutionary Jews of Corfu

Actively trading with Ancona to the west and with the Ottoman Empire to the east, Corfu's Jews numbered 1,500 to 2,000 out of the total urban population of circa 12,000. From June 28, 1797, these Jews were immediate beneficiaries of the new revolutionary regime. For example, the island's two principal rabbis were (July 10, 1797) appointed to the municipality, which was the newly created, French provisional government of the island of Corfu.

Evidently aware that Napoleon was then a great champion of Jewish emancipation, Arnault reported (July 11, 1797) to him that the right of the two rabbis to sit as council members was aggressively challenged by 18 Orthodox Greek councillors who hit the two Jews and shouted "Vivent les Français. Point d'Hébreux!" (Long live the French! No Jews!) Troops were called to control this display of violent prejudice, which also came from a mob of five hundred ruffians, outside on the square. "The Jews are dogs," shouted the rioters, who demanded that Jews be excluded from the municipal body and prevented from sporting the revolutionary tricolor cockade on their hats. But Arnault stood firm, with the words: "The freedom (la liberté) brought by the French is the common property of all; a Jew is no longer to be a dog for a Greek, just as much as a Greek is no longer to be one for a Latin." Years later, Arnault reflected that the Greeks then mostly understood "freedom (la liberté) as the right to oppress anybody who was not of their communion."

The revolutionary principle, "all the religions are equal," had to be strictly enforced by Gentili, as military governor of the Ionian Islands. For example, officer of the Levant Division, J.P. Bellaire recalled (1805) that Gentili in 1797-8 made sure that children from some of the poorer Jewish families on Corfu were able to attend Mr. Vivotte's public, primary school together with the Catholic and Orthodox students. There they studied "writing, arithmetic and the French language."

In 1797-8, Gentili also guarded the right to equality of the Jews on the islands of the neighboring Department of the Aegean Sea. The former commissary on Zante, Cerigo, Cerigotto and the Strophades, Charles Rulhière wrote that, during the long period of Venetian rule, the "fanatic" Orthodox Greeks had been violently hostile to the Jewish islanders. However, Rulhière proudly affirmed (1799): "During our stay, the peace was well kept, due to the measures taken by the civil and military authorities."

Around September 1798, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople issued a proclamation that favored the Russians and the Turks, and condemned the French as "atheists." So, when a Russo-Turkish fleet neared Corfu, seven to eight thousand angry Orthodox Greek peasants came to town for a savage pogrom (October 24, 1798). Alongside the French garrison, the Corfiote Jews valiantly fought as soldiers trying to defend the fortress against combined attacks by reactionary Russians and Ottomans (1798-9). The Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung printed an Ancona report describing the March 2, 1799 victory of the counter-revolution on Corfu (May 3, 1799): "The most zealous Democrats, who are mostly Jews, were exiled."

The 1797 events recorded by Rabbi Cohen in Ancona and by Arnault on Corfu ranked as sensational news for Jews everywhere. Just as suggested by Le Breton, tidings of such extraordinary happenings would have spread, within days, to the Jewish communities of the adjacent Balkan coast, and thereafter to Jews throughout the Ottoman Near and Mideast.

Napoleon targeted all the Ottoman Peoples

Despite more than two hundred years of friendship between France and the Ottomans, Napoleon had scant respect for the Sultan's sovereignty. Napoleon imagined the Ottoman Empire to be already collapsing, so he wanted to give it a bit of a push himself. Naturally, he presumed that France would always keep supreme position as la grande nation. But beyond that, he regarded the Ottoman corpse as big enough to satisfy the national dreams of a long list of fraternal Peoples -- including Jews, Greeks, Maronites, Armenians, Druze; and also Muslim Albanians, Turks, and Arabs. This kind of thinking explains his planning to occupy Ottoman Egypt. It also accounts for his policy of encouraging the separatist ambitions of the Sultan's actual or potential Muslim rivals like Osman Pasvanoğlu in Vidin and Tepedelenli Ali Pasha in Yanina.

But closer to Napoleon's revolutionary ethos were his concerted efforts to spread the "spirit of liberty" among the Sultan's non-Muslim, tribute-paying subjects, the raya (Ottoman: رعايا). Starting no later than 1797, he repeatedly aimed propaganda at the subject Peoples of the entire Ottoman Empire. French, Italian, Greek, Ottoman-Turkish, and Arabic were certainly all used. However, there was likely also some of Napoleon's propaganda in Hebrew, and maybe in Syriac and some other languages as well. To be sure, exactly such a campaign of sedition had been specifically commanded by the Directory, via a letter to Napoleon from Talleyrand (August 23, 1797):
Nothing is more important than that we put ourselves on a good footing with Albania, Greece, Macedonia and other provinces of the Turkish empire in Europe and even with all those that are bathed by the waters of the Mediterranean, notably Egypt which one day could become of great utility to us. The Directory, in approving the ties which you have established with Ibrahim Pasha and the Albanian nation, desires that you make the French people known to the remainder of the Turkish provinces, in a way that sooner or later could turn out to their benefit and to ours, and to the disadvantage of our common enemies.

Ancona base for anti-Ottoman propaganda

Meeting his old friend in Passariano, at the eastern extremity of Italy, General Louis Desaix described in his diary what he had then learned from Napoleon about the French plan to bring down the Ottoman Empire (September 1797):
The general has a great and skillful policy: it is to give to all of these folks there a grand idea of the French nation. He has received the Directory's command to spread that idea throughout all of Africa, Greece, via printing presses, proclamations. He wins the hearts of all these nations; he reminds them of their ancient glory, their ancient name; he instructs them about the astonishing and prodigious feats of the French. And, they are all surprised to find out what they learn; they are very thirsty for news; they come in great numbers to Ancona to equip themselves with merchandise and one of their greatest pleasures is to take these proclamations to read and to carry them back to their country.

Compelling Sept. 1797 testimony about Napoleon's proclamations to
the various Peoples of the Ottoman Empire is provided in the
Journal de voyage du Général Desaix, Suisse et Italie, 1797
(Paris, 1907), p. 256.

Like Napoleon, those familiar with 18th-century Adriatic trade would immediately know that Jews played an important role in the commerce between Ancona and the Ottoman east. Napoleon's native understanding of the Mediterranean included awareness that Jews were often part of transnational, commercial networks, based on kinship; shared religion, languages, culture; and strong economic synergy. On this Jewish point, the Directory received a pertinent report from Napoleon in Macerata (February 15, 1797):
Ancona is a very good port. From there, you can reach Macedonia within twenty-four hours and Constantinople within ten days. My intention is to collect there as many Jews as possible. (Mon projet est d'y ramasser tous les juifs possibles.) I will have the fortress there put into the best state of defense. In the general peace, we must keep the port of Ancona, and make sure that it always belongs to France. This will enable us to have a great influence on the Ottoman Porte and make us masters of the Adriatic Sea.

Further examples? Two months after Napoleon withdrew his army from the Holy Land, his Memoire on Internal Administration (August 1799) similarly recommended using all means to attract a large Jewish population to Alexandria, which he thought ought to be the Egyptian capital instead of Cairo. Later, on Saint Helena, Napoleon in Italian told O'Meara that heavy Jewish immigration would likewise be a way to make France wealthy. Thus, Napoleon clearly shared a contemporary view that had already been described by Le Breton in La Décade (April 19, 1798):
The Jews locate themselves in stages all the way from the Batavian Republic [the Netherlands] to the Indies; just as it would be necessary to establish them, if one wished to make use of them to revive the trade of yesteryear. They are in the ports of Italy, on the islands of the Archipelago, at Salonika, at Constantinople, in Cairo, at Alexandria, at Damascus, at Aleppo, and at Basra. They are rich and numerous in [North] Africa. They administer the finances, the coinage and the customs in the regencies of Algiers, of Tunis, of Tripoli and in the Empire of Morocco.

As an exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon prepared a history of his first Italian campaigns. Therein, he offered the specific phrase "droits de l'hospitalité" (laws of hospitality). This suggests that, in his view, many of the Jews at Ancona were just visiting from the Balkan lands, exactly like the Muslim merchants there, who also came from the Ottoman Empire (circa 1819):
The Jews, numerous at Ancona, along with the Muslims of Albania and Greece, were there subjected to longstanding practices which were both humiliating and contrary to the laws of hospitality (contraire aux droits de l'hospitalité). One of the first cares of Napoleon was to emancipate them.

General Desaix unequivocally tells us that Napoleon was in 1797 already running a major, anti-Ottoman propaganda operation out of Ancona. This specific revolutionary activity was later entrusted (November 14, 1798) to the Republic's agence d'Ancône, officially tasked with secretly preparing popular insurrections in the Ottoman Empire.

Make no mistake, Desaix's revealing passage cannot reasonably be read so as to exclude the many Jewish merchants who regularly went to trade in Ancona, where there was also a vibrant Jewish community, wild for the revolution and Napoleon. Nor can Desaix's quote be reasonably read so as to exclude the Jewish People from the phrase "all these nations," as used by Desaix to describe the various Peoples of the Ottoman Empire, which then stretched all the way from North Africa through Western Asia into the Balkan lands.

This spacious Ottoman geography is important for understanding Desaix's shorthand reference to "all of Africa, Greece." Looking at the map of the Ottoman Empire is also helpful for grasping the meaning of several subsequent citations that will speak of "Asia and Africa" or "Africa and Asia." In the pertinent 18th-century context, this continental couplet clearly pointed to the territory of the Ottoman Empire, including Turkey in Europe.

The Ottoman Empire in 1801 (Cambridge University Press, 1913).
During the 18th century, Turkey stretched from Algiers, eastward along the coast
of North Africa, via Western Asia, to include almost all of the Balkan Peninsula.
Thus, the contemporary Habsburg diplomat and statesman Klemens von
Metternich quipped, "Asia begins at the Landstraße" in Vienna.

"Inventing" a revolutionary prophecy

To radicalize the Peoples of the Ottoman Empire, Napoleon and his agents were regularly using proclamations, pamphlets, letters, poems, songs, music, pictures; and also symbols like red caps, tricolor cockades and liberty trees.

Alleged to be from Frankfurt is this May 31, 1798 report of a popular prophecy of the 1799 fall of the Ottoman Empire. The same curious theme of "prophecy" and "destiny" also sometimes features in Napoleon's 1798-9 Mideast propaganda, aimed at Muslims. One way or another, Napoleon's fingerprints are likely all over this peculiar "prophecy" story that, simultaneous to the printing of Lettre d'un Juif, is so prominently published, verbatim, in the Paris daily newspapers La Clef du Cabinet des Souverains (June 8, 1798) and Le Moniteur (June 10, 1798):
Some Greeks who have recently traversed several provinces of the Ottoman Empire have observed that in Macedonia there has circulated for a few years a prophecy to the effect that: in 1799 a great empire will be overthrown. The Greeks claim that this prophecy announces their manumission (affranchissement).
From this arises the respect, approaching adoration, which they feel towards Bonaparte, whom they regard as the instrument designated by destiny for this great operation. They have already composed several songs about this general; and almost two years ago a single Greek merchant at the Leipzig fair bought 300 engravings of Bonaparte's portrait for distribution in the county of Larissa, one of the most enlightened regions of Macedonia. [...]
We know what we are supposed to think about prophecies, even when it is well attested that they have not been concocted, after the fact. But sometimes, it is by inventing them (en les inventant), and in adding belief in them, that they are prepared and assured of fulfillment.

The Lloyd's Evening-Post offers a fascinating, brief news item that is key for understanding the authorship, meaning, and pan-Ottoman scope of this fake prophecy, about early fall of the Sultan's empire (August 7-9, 1799):
From Smyrna [İzmir] it appears that, among some suspected goods lately stopped near Adrianople [Edirne], consigned to some Jews at Constantinople, a vast number of printed copies of prophecies, in Arabic, Turkish, and the language of the Franks [from Ottoman-Turkish فرنكلر Firenkler = Europeans], were found, all portending the immediate downfall of the Turkish Empire -- the manifest fabrication of some French agents at Widdin or Wallachia.
The rich information in this short London passage: firstly, seems to derive from an Ottoman account, by reason of the striking reference to "language of the Franks"; secondly, links Constantinople Jews to the diffusion of this revolutionary propaganda; and, thirdly, confirms that the printings were, not just in Greek, as would be presumed from the Paris reports above, but importantly in Arabic and Ottoman-Turkish and also in "the language of the Franks."

This 1799 English word "Franks" here probably points to the Ottoman expression Firenkler (فرنكلر) which means "Europeans." Thus, "the language of the Franks" can easily be understood as referring to Italian, which was then the foreign language most widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean. The pertinent linguistic logic is exactly as in the case of the adjective "franco," as featuring in the famous Mediterranean term lingua franca. This was the name for an international, maritime and port speech that was mostly drawn from the Italian of Genoa and Venice. Italian as "the language of the Franks" is entirely consistent with the fact that the 18th-century Ottoman-Turkish for "Frenchmen" is not "Franks" (Firenklerفرنكلر), but rather Fransızlar (فرانسزلر). And, for the "French language," the Ottomans said Fransızca (فرانسزجه) or Fransız lisanı (فرانسز لسانى).

The likelihood of such "prophecy" printings in Italian invites return to the topic of the linguistic range of the Jews of the 18th-century Eastern Mediterranean. Many of them were probably unable to read Greek, and perhaps even had difficulty understanding much French. By contrast, many Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean would then have been able to quickly read the fake prophecy in Italian.

Here we are dealing with ephemera. Thus, there should be no surprise that no authentic copy of these printed prophecies from "Widdin or Wallachia" survives into the 21st century. Nonetheless, taken together, the cited Paris and London newspapers prove that such propaganda printings, aimed at all the Ottoman Peoples, were indeed circulating, perhaps as early as 1797.

Inflaming the Mideast: a royalist view 

A pioneer of modern political journalism, the Huguenot Jacques Mallet du Pan was a protégé of Voltaire. Mallet du Pan was first a professor of classics, but ultimately a well-connected and influential anti-revolutionary publicist, with ties to the British Foreign Office. In London, he produced the French-language Mercure Britannique, where in Volume 3 (1799), there is a remarkable essay on "Turkey."

Therein, his treatment of the Jews seems to reflect both Lettre d'un Juif (June 8, 1798) and the recent (May 17, 1799) London news that Napoleon had issued a proclamation inviting return to the ancient homeland. More to the point, Mallet du Pan's broader analysis is thoroughly consistent with: the September 1797 entry in Desaix's diary; the 1798-9 story about the fake prophecies; and what the Ottomans already knew about French-Revolutionary subversion, starting with Napoleon's 1797 arrival on the Adriatic coast of Italy. Mallet du Pan's account is perhaps in some places inaccurate. However, it is impossible to ignore his astute general assessment of the French Republic's Mideast intentions and tactics (May 25, 1799):
Buonaparte is sure to strengthen the force of arms with all that can be added by the refinements of politics; the tricks of charlatanism; and the arts of division, flattery, and corruption. He implements a plan that has been considered and prepared for a long time. He has been provided with helpers who are only awaiting his success in order to declare themselves.
He will re-establish the Jews in Palestine. This aim was agreed in Paris between the Directory and a yet standing committee of Israelites, deputies of the various countries of Europe and Asia. The plan for their République hébraïque (Hebrew Republic) is ready. They will restore the Tabernacle in Jerusalem. There, their numbers and financial resources will assist the restorer of their political existence (le restaurateur de leur existence politique).
Also sitting in Paris is another committee made up of Christian schismatics, belonging to the principal sects of the Archipelago and Asia. This Christian committee receives and transmits information; serves to facilitate communications; designates the emissaries to be employed; dispatches orders; and directs preliminary operations, translations and printing. It is the workshop of revolutionary measures.
The loss of the Mediterranean and Corfu, the awakening of the Ottoman Porte, and the appearance of the Russians have slowed and embarrassed these pestilential connections. But, their authors manage to surmount these obstacles via still more ardor, activity and perseverance that the Turkish police are unable to fight.
Work of the same order has born fruit among the Peoples of the Lebanon and Mount Carmel. Well known is the impatience with which the Druze and the Christians of these valleys have always suffered Muslim domination. There is no need for me to remind you of their frequent revolts or the harshness with which they have been treated. The Consuls of France at Aleppo and Tripoli in Syria have for three years been exchanging information with these restive tribes which are always ready to unite with the first leader who promises to free them from the Turks.
Their country has been inundated with hymns, poems, writings of all kinds, in which they are called to freedom (la liberté). Thus we can consider the revolution as secretly organized from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, and from Suez to the borders of Karamania [south-central Anatolia].

The émigré Jacques Mallet du Pan, 1749-1800.
As editor of the Mercure Britannique of London, he produced
an astonishing May 25, 1799 analysis of Bonaparte's

intentions and tactics in the Ottoman east.  

A proclamation to the Jews before 1799

News of an undated revolutionary proclamation to the Jews reached the Ottoman Turks certainly before Selim III declared war against France (September 10, 1798); and probably during the Muslim year 1212, which began on June 26, 1797 and ended at sundown on June 14, 1798. That is what we learn from the Ottoman Empire's chosen historiographer, Ahmet Cevdet Pasha who intellectually was a towering figure. To the point, the high quality of Cevdet's historical writing has been praised by Bernard Lewis (1953).

In the mid-19th century, Cevdet began producing in the Ottoman-Turkish language, for the period 1774-1826, an authoritative twelve volumes, based mainly on documents in the imperial archives in Constantinople. As the Ottoman Empire's officially-appointed chronicler (Ottoman: vakanüvis وقائع نوىس), Cevdet had to be very careful about sequence and chronology. He was neither ambiguous nor confused in clearly pointing to the several months before the September 1798 Ottoman declaration of war against France.

Written in the Ottoman-Turkish language,
Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, Tarih-i Cevdet, Vol. 6, p. 282,
New Edition, 2nd Printing (H. 1309).

Professionally scrupulous about identifying his various sources, Cevdet specifically writes that it was then heard, "from the mouth of a Jew" (بر يهودى آغزندن), that as "understood from a printed and published official declaration" (بر بياننامه قالمه آلنه رق طبع و نشر ايله), Jews from all over had been invited to agree on "establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل).

Jews as secret agents

Who was this Jew who told the Ottomans about the official declaration for a Jewish government in Jerusalem? It is impossible to say. However, we should bear in mind that Napoleon certainly had Jewish spies, agents or emissaries in the Balkans. For example, Le Moniteur published a Constantinople report (May 13, 1799):
On the 16th of this month [April 5, 1799] in the Bostanji-Bashi prison, the Porte had strangled to death a Jewish physician, lately come from Rushcuk [Ruse on the Danube] with the Kapudan Pasha [November 1798]. Definite proof had been acquired that he was a secret emissary of the French.
More Jewish secret emissaries? The Turks certainly thought so. After the first week of September 1798, they would not let young Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (Ukraine) disembark in Jaffa, because they thought he was a French spy. And, it seems that they perhaps had some reason to be concerned about Jews, many of whom were then dazzled by Napoleon.

Until the Dey of Algiers followed the lead of his Ottoman suzerain in declaring war against France, Marseilles members of the prominent Algerian Jewish merchant families Bacri and Abucaya were used by the Directory for transmitting secret dispatches to Napoleon in Egypt. The Directory appointed two Jewish secret emissaries for the same purpose in 1799. Twenty-one years of age, the Jewish soldier Samson Cerfberr de Medelsheim was sent out from Paris with dispatches in April, but captured by the British Navy off Sardinia. Forty-eight years of age, the Polish Jew Zalkind Hourvitz was a prize-winning essayist, veteran revolutionary, and ex-employee of the Bibliothèque Nationale. He was just about to begin his journey from Paris to Egypt, when news arrived of Napoleon's return to France (October 1799).

Another example of a Jewish secret agent was the radical English publicist Lewis Goldsmith. Throughout the 1790s, he openly championed the cause of the French Revolution. No later than 1800, he was secretly on Talleyrand's payroll to produce London propaganda against the policies of Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger. In January 1801, Goldsmith published The Crimes of Cabinets, subtitled "a review of their plans and aggressions for the annihilation of the liberties of France and the dismemberment of her territories." He was later a Paris editor and propagandist, and also a spy for Napoleon in Europe. Eventually, Goldsmith turned against Napoleon. In fact, Goldsmith became so famous as a vitriolic critic of the French Emperor that, after the Bourbon restoration, Goldsmith earned a pension from King Louis XVIII of France.

Napoleon's propaganda resented by Turkey 

From 1797 the Turks were fully alive to the modern political meaning of all those French references to the glories of ancient Greece. In retrospective analysis, Cevdet Pasha understood the revolutionary evocations of ancient Greece and biblical Jerusalem to be identical in terms of source, time, and anti-Ottoman motive. On either side, contemporary diplomatic correspondence and other evidence show that the Turks then knew that Napoleon and his local commanders were publishing inflammatory proclamations and dispatching letters and subversive emissaries to spark revolt against the Sultan on the Aegean islands, and in Morea and Rumelia.

Such efforts were certainly aimed at revolutionizing Greeks. But, there were also important Jewish communities on the islands of Crete and Rhodes. And, Rumelia included the heavily-Jewish city of Salonika, as well as Edirne and Larissa where there were also many thousands of Jews. In the Morea, there was a major Jewish presence in Tripolis, but also Jewish communities at Mystras, Kalamata and Patras. Large numbers of Jews lived in Constantinople, Bursa, Izmir, Aleppo, Damascus, Safed, Jerusalem, Alexandria; as well as in so many other places of the Ottoman Empire.

The Foreign Minister (Ottoman: reis-ül-küttab رئيس الكتاب‎) and the Dragoman of the Porte repeatedly protested to the French Embassy in Constantinople, as in late 1797 and again in June and July 1798. These Ottoman grievances were embodied in a long memorandum shared with the diplomatic corps simultaneous to Turkey's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798).

The Ottomans were astute in articulating the French strategic conception of la grande nation: "Everywhere weak republics would be created which France would keep under its tutelage, so that everything everywhere would go according to its arbitrary will." The foregoing and other generous excerpts from the Ottoman memorandum appeared one month later in the Wiener Zeitung (October 10, 1798):
One knows about Bonaparte's letter [July 30, 1797] to the Maniotes and of other distributed writings of his deceitful genius. When the Sublime Porte in the strongest terms complained about this, the French government downplayed the matter and undertook to stop it immediately, saying that it wished nothing else than to strengthen the old friendship. But, the [French] generals did not in the least change their behavior. To the contrary, they were even more enterprising and cunning than before.
Napoleon was not just contacting the Maniotes. As shown by Cevdet Pasha's reference to a proclamation to the Jews, there were most certainly additional recipients of the "other distributed writings of his deceitful genius," exactly as specified by the Ottomans in 1798.

Maniotes but not Jews?

Napoleon himself recruited his own spies and emissaries, even paying them personally or signing their bank drafts. His modus operandi and rationale relating to the oppressed Peoples of the Ottoman Empire is exemplified by his efforts aimed at the Maniotes. They then numbered no more than 40,000 (or perhaps even as few as eight to ten thousand, according to an 1803 Ottoman estimate). From Milan, Napoleon wrote to the Chief of the Maniotes (July 30, 1797): "The French value the small, but brave Maniote People who alone of ancient Greece has known how to preserve its liberty." On that same day, Napoleon wrote to Arnault on Corfu that he wished to know more about "the situation and forces of this small People" and "what could be expected from them if ever the Ottoman Empire experiences a convulsion." He then informed the Directory (August 1, 1797):
The Chief of the Maniotes, a people who trace genuine descent from the Spartiatae, and who occupy the peninsula on which Cape Matapan is situated, has sent one of his principal men to express to me his wish to see French vessels in his port, and to be of some service to the Great Nation.
Already known to Napoleon were Dimo Stephanopoulos and his nephew Nicolo, both born and raised in Corsica. Napoleon first checked to make sure that the two were really fluent in their ancestral Maniote dialect of Greek, and then sent them in September 1797 to sow "seeds of true liberty" in Mani. The diplomatic letter that the Stephanopouli carried to Mani explicitly recognized the peoplehood of the Maniote "nation" which was celebrated as descending from ancient Sparta. According to Napoleon, the Revolutionary French Republic and the Maniotes were "two nations equally friends of liberty."

Napoleon specifically saluted Maniote peoplehood and tried to subvert the few Maniotes. Therefore, why would anyone doubt Cevdet Pasha's official account of a 1797-8 revolutionary appeal to the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire? True, the Maniotes were famous as fierce warriors. But, in the Ottoman Empire, Jews were certainly more numerous than Maniotes, not to mention the millions of Jews across Europe. Moreover, revolutionary Jews had already shown that they too could fight. Finally, there can be no doubt that Napoleon believed that Jews could offer special advantages in connection with international trade.

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1863), Bonaparte in the Mideast, 1798-1799.
The Revolutionary French Republic and Bonaparte then
strongly championed the new political principles of
popular sovereignty and the self-determination of Peoples.

Propaganda for niche markets

Napoleon always placed exceptional emphasis on communications and public relations, including revolutionary propaganda custom-made for niche audiences, in various places. For example, from late 1796, he was promising to "revolutionize" Hungary. His proclamation to the Army of Italy rhapsodized (March 10, 1797): "It is freedom (la liberté) that you will bring to the brave Hungarian nation." With evident understanding of the distinct propaganda utility of each of French, Hungarian, German and Italian, Napoleon wrote to General Charles-François-Joseph Dugua who was then in Trieste (March 26, 1797):
You will find attached a copy of my proclamation to the army that you will arrange to translate into German, Hungarian, Italian; that you will arrange to print and seek to distribute in Hungary to the greatest extent that you are able. You will send me five hundred copies of them in Hungarian, five hundred in German, and two hundred in Italian.
Additional "pamphlet" propaganda, perhaps also printed in Latin, aimed at sparking insurrection in Hungary. To the point, the Austrian intelligence agency, the Polizeihofstelle, told the Habsburg Emperor Francis II, who was also King of Hungary (December 27, 1797):
Although one is already accustomed to Bonaparte's boastful tone, it is still very noteworthy that he says, via published pamphlets that have come straight from Hungary, that this kingdom's transformation into a republic depends on him.
As General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy (1796-7), Napoleon had always been specially concerned about the availability of both printing presses and foreign-language typeface. For example, he repeatedly signaled urgent need for Greek and Arabic characters, the latter also useful for printing in Ottoman-Turkish.

Mideast propaganda 1798

Less than a week after his Army of the Orient disembarked in Ottoman Egypt, Napoleon ordered (July 7, 1798) French, Arabic and Greek printing to begin within twenty-four hours. He wanted four thousand Arabic-language proclamations pronto. He frequently wrote to ensure that his proclamations were distributed to the inhabitants of Egypt.

Napoleon was also astute and proactive in finding imaginative ways to spread his proclamations in Greater Syria, to which regular travel was still possible during July and August 1798. For example, the French invasion fleet had carried from Malta some of the prisoners freed from slavery, imposed by the Knights of Saint John. Napoleon made sure that the former prisoners heading home to "Syria" were equipped with copies of his proclamations, which were probably also made available to ordinary travelers heading eastward. From July 1798, Napoleon was trying to send as many spies as possible from Egypt to Ottoman Syria. Such spies, emissaries and agents carried secret letters and Napoleon's various proclamations. For example, before the end of 1798, he authorized production of an Arabic-language proclamation "to the inhabitants of Syria," which is discussed below.

There is no reason to presume that Jews were lacking among the Malta prisoners, other travelers, and the many spies that Napoleon sent to "Syria." These Jews likely packed the printed proclamations for "the inhabitants of Syria." And just as suggested by Mallet du Pan, they perhaps also carried seditious hymns, poetry, pamphlets and secret letters; maybe including one or more texts, specially crafted for the Jewish communities of Ottoman Syria.

Grands prêtres de la nation juive

Any special messages from Napoleon for Jews could have been handwritten, or possibly even printed in Hebrew, because 18th-century Cairo already had presses working with Hebrew characters. Such postulated propaganda for Jews would probably have contained revolutionary exhortations, and also religious references to soon rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Included would have been the astonishing news that, for the first time in 1,728 years, there were once again high priests of the Jewish People, "grands prêtres de la nation juive."

Napoleon was intelligent; highly educated; and always extremely interested in details of the various religions, which he exploited politically. As First Consul of the Republic, he told the Council of State (August 16, 1800):
It is by making myself Catholic that I brought an end to the war in the Vendée; by making myself Muslim that I established myself in Egypt; by making myself ultramontane that I won over minds in Italy. If I governed a nation of Jews, I would rebuild the Temple of Solomon.
His diverse writings and occasional conversations show that he probably well understood the historical and theological distinction between a modern rabbi (rabbin) and a biblical Jewish priest (prêtre), and between an ordinary synagogue and the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, there was likely lateral thinking, strategy, and shrewd propaganda in his Cairo order (September 7, 1798) authorizing Jewish community organization. The pertinent point is his naming of two "grands prêtres de la nation juive." The issue is his choice of striking "grand prêtre" terminology, which harkens back to the Temple. He probably did so deliberately, in order to appeal to millennial Jewish hopes for rebuilding the Temple.

News of the appointment of such high priests would solo suffice to explain the excitement and enhanced messianic expectation that arose among Mideast Jews upon Napoleon's entry into the Holy Land (February 1799). The rumor that he would then go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple was recorded by Napoleon himself around 1819, in his own historical account of the "Syrian" campaign.

1798 proclamation to inhabitants of Syria

This little known Napoleon document deserves special attention, including because it does not appear in the principal, standard collections of his product. On February 19, 1799, The True Briton of London published the English translation of this undated, Arabic proclamation that Napoleon had preemptively addressed to "the inhabitants of Syria." (Editorially dated December 1798, a somewhat shorter French-language translation was published by Christian August Fischer, in Leipzig in 1808.)

We can be dead certain that this proclamation "to the inhabitants of Syria" originated before 1799, due to the average slow speed of late 18th-century communications from Egypt to Constantinople, and then onward to Vienna and London. Thus, Napoleon drafted this propaganda proleptically, i.e. written as a "flash forward" into the future. Specifically, he must have arranged for preparation of this Arabic document, at a minimum, fifty days before he left Cairo (February 10, 1799) to cross the Sinai Desert.

As late as December 15, 1798, Napoleon's local organ Le Courrier de l'Égypte was still stubbornly sticking to his original propaganda line that the French were in Egypt as allies of the Ottoman sultan. Moreover, a later edition of the same paper says the Ottoman flag was still flying (June 13, 1799) over the French garrison in the fort at Qusayr, on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea. Thus, the timing, tenor and contents of the "proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria" suggest that it was probably not intended for immediate release to the general public in Egypt. Rather, it was likely designed for secret infiltration into "Syria," for circulation before and during Napoleon's campaign there. Consistent with revolutionary doctrine, the divinity of Christ is denied, and the populace invited to rally to Napoleon's banner (1798):
Cairo the Great, Alexandria the Powerful, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Ptolemaïs [Acre], and Damaïs [Damascus], the plains and the ancient monuments which surround those Cities, have witnessed the approach of our Armies [carefully note and remember the foregoing "fast forward" prolepsis], whose power is infinite, and incomprehensible even to the wise. Protection to every City which shall open its gates to us! But woe to those Cities and their inhabitants, which shall reject our beneficence! It is to declare this truth to all Syria that we have issued this Proclamation which is irrevocable. If you repair to our standard, you will never be forsaken -- if not, the sword of vengeance shall reach your heads.

London, The True Briton, No 1922,
Tuesday, February 19, 1799.

This piece is noteworthy as absent from the main,
standard, printed collections of Napoleon's documents. 

Mideast propaganda 1799

The Ottomans derided such proclamations as lying "sweet talk." Nonetheless, after Napoleon's army took Gaza (February 25, 1799), there were more proclamations for Muslims and also a series of individual messages for Christians in the Lebanon, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

On March 7, 1799, Napoleon conquered Jaffa. First the town was sacked. Then, after the initial slaughter, there were some premeditated mass killings of civilians and prisoners of war. Specifically, the extermination of the Ottoman prisoners of war continued until March 10th. Napoleon exploited this horror to send four separate proclamations to threaten the Muslims of Acre; Jerusalem; Nablus; and Gaza, Ramle and Jaffa. In each case, he asked them to choose between submission and the terrors of war. In the letter to the latter three towns of the coastal strip, he characteristically invoked the notion of destiny (March 9, 1799):
It is good for you to know that all human efforts are useless against me, because everything that I undertake must succeed. Those who declare themselves to be my friends prosper. Those who declare themselves to be my enemies perish. The example which has just happened at Gaza and Jaffa ought to make you know that, if I can be terrible to my enemies, I am good to my friends and above all mild and merciful to the poor people.
Later, he also wrote a private letter to court Bashir Shihab II, the Emir of the Druze (March 20, 1799): "My intention is to make the Druze nation independent, to lighten the tribute which it pays, and to deliver to it the port of Beirut and other towns necessary for the outflow of its commerce."

Jewish history weighed heavily

Despite revolutionary secularism, Napoleon took ancient Jewish history very seriously. He had read Jacques Basnage's History of the Jews and made some notes on Jewish topics. Before sailing for Egypt (May 19, 1798), Napoleon had prepared a list of around 550 military and other books that he wanted on board. Likely among the military titles there was the famous eyewitness account of Roman generalship in first-century Judea, in The Jewish War by Josephus. This was a book that Napoleon knew well. Moreover, what has survived of Napoleon's list of books classified the Catholic "Old Testament" under the heading of "politics," along with some other titles like the Koran and Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws (De l'esprit des lois). An hour before Napoleon left Cairo for the "Syrian" campaign, he wrote to the Directory (February 10, 1799): "When you read this letter, it is possible that I might be on the ruins of the city of Solomon."

Regarding the "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon reminisced (January 1813): "I constantly read Genesis when visiting the places it describes and was amazed beyond measure that they were still exactly as Moses had described them." During his exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon personally completed (circa 1819) a careful account of the campaign. He again recalled that he and his entourage were struck by the accuracy of the descriptions in the Catholic Old Testament, which Monge read aloud to them in the evenings, in the tent of the General-in-Chief.

Napoleon's soldiers came very close to Jerusalem. But he was careful not to take the Holy City, because he wanted to move fast to first capture the fortified ports at Jaffa and Acre. Moreover, for political reasons, he wished to parry any Muslim perception that he might be yet another Roman-Catholic Crusader. But despite their revolutionary scorn for Christianity, his troops were still "burning to see" sacred sites like the "plateau of the Temple of Solomon," as Napoleon specifically recollected.

Why not the Jews?

So, Napoleon troubled to write a letter to the Emir of the Druze, and even a proclamation to the Sheikh of Nablus, but nothing either for the Jews of Ottoman Syria or for the great Jewish People of world history? Before and during his "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon certainly sought to derive advantage from every other significant component of the local population. Thus, it would have been exceedingly peculiar for him to have omitted communications or approaches to Jews. However, most Jews in "Syria" were wisely far too afraid of the prospect of brutal Ottoman retaliation to have much to do with the French invaders.

Several accounts say that Napoleon met with a group of Jews, at some time during the week immediately following the conquest of Jaffa (March 7th). This meeting likely occurred shortly after he had written (March 9th), in eight to ten copies, inviting the inhabitants of Jerusalem to send representatives to his camp, in order to promise that they would do nothing to harm him.

Such a Napoleon meeting with Jews is credible, if only because one of the accounts includes the exceedingly rare (but well-substantiated) detail, that Napoleon was then residing in the requisitioned, seaside home of the consular agent Antonio Damiani, who was a Christian. (Damiani represented Britain and various other parties, including the Constantinople rabbinate in helping disembarking Jewish pilgrims find lodging in Jaffa.) There, in Damiani's home, the Jews told Napoleon that he was the savior of the Jewish People. In reply, he questioned them about the present situation of the Jews in the country, their expectations for the future, and some pertinent points of Jewish history.

Without reference to the meeting in Damiani's home, it has been suggested that Napoleon, at some time during his first week in Jaffa, probably wrote an appeal to the Jews. Considering the slow speed of 18th-century travel from Jaffa to Europe, news of such a document could conceivably have reached West European cities soon enough to trigger the "proclamation" stories that can still be read in at least a dozen European publications, printed from mid to late May 1799. If so, any copy of the Jaffa document, that Napoleon would have kept for the record, was likely purposely destroyed in the 19th century, exactly as explained in the preface.

Secret agents & "legitimate heirs of Palestine"

Around 1819, Napoleon remembered that the French Revolutionary Army had in early 1799 sent Jewish agents to Damascus and Aleppo. The implication was that their mission was to secretly gather intelligence and discreetly stimulate local Jewish support. If so, did they confidentially invoke revolutionary doctrines of "liberty, equality and fraternity"? Did their discreet propaganda portray Napoleon as ready to sponsor restoration of the Jerusalem Temple?

Perhaps linked to one or more of these Jewish agents is a pitch-perfect document that (without payment or other financial incentive) first surfaced in 1940 London. This discovery was a modern trace of Napoleonic ephemera. Originating from Nazi Vienna (August 1939), it was an elderly refugee's last-minute, German-language typescript of his Prague, Orthodox-Jewish family's long-treasured, handwritten document. Without specifying source language, the latter speaks for itself in saying that it is a 1799 translation into German from an original Napoleon text, dated April 20, 1799.

The 1799 translator probably himself invented the title, "Letter to the Jewish Nation from the French General-in-Chief Buonaparte." This is likely because, throughout the body of the letter, the reference is to "Israelites," with no mention of "Jews" or "Jewish." After the translator's title, the body of the actual text begins with the place, "Hauptquartier Jerusalem" (Headquarters Jerusalem); and the date, according to the revolutionary calendar, "1. Floreal im Jahre 7 der französischen Republik" (1 Floréal, Year VII of the French Republic).

Thereafter follows the name of sender and addressees: "Buonaparte, General-in-Chief of the Armies of the French Republic in Africa and Asia, to the legitimate heirs of Palestine!" But even in 1798-9, exceedingly well known as the formal name for Napoleon's military command was the exotic and compelling phrase, "l'armée d'Orient" (army of the East). For this reason, any rational forger -- aiming at credibility via verisimilitude -- would most likely have made sure to use the correct, official designation for Napoleon's army.

By contrast, as a skilled propagandist, Napoleon himself had other priorities for his writing. Thus, weighing in favor of the letter's authenticity is that here, as elsewhere, Napoleon likes the glamour of a border between two famous continents. Whether in 1798-9 or around 1819, his pen offers us several other grandiose references to Africa and Asia. Specifically here, as elsewhere in the pertinent context, the continental couplet refers to Ottoman territory; just as l'armée d'Orient clearly denotes the French Army operating in the Ottoman Empire.

Absolutely no inference can be drawn from the Italianate spelling of Napoleon's family name, which is notably inconsistent even on his baptismal certificate (July 21, 1771) which is written in Italian. In any event, at issue here is a self-declared German translation, perhaps from Hebrew or French, or maybe even from Italian. Evidently, the translator might have himself opted for the family-name spelling most familiar in contemporary German usage. In 1799 both variants were commonly used in the European press, sometimes even in Le Moniteur.

In that specific year, April 20th was notably the first day of Passover, which is pertinently a Jewish holiday celebrating the theme of the liberation of the Jewish People. Close to that time, Napoleon repeatedly wrote that he expected the early capture of Ottoman Acre which he was sure would make a big impression on the local populations. The contemporary documents tell us that he was then confident that Acre's imminent fall would trigger the voluntary submission of Damascus and Jerusalem. His proven expectation about soon conquering Acre perhaps explains why, for added political force, the alleged Napoleon letter falsely (or rather proleptically) identifies Jerusalem as the site of his headquarters. This "prolepsis" possibility is not to be dismissed lightly. We have already seen similar "flash forward" prolepsis in the aforementioned 1798 proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria.

The factually incorrect location of Napoleon's headquarters seems to discount the possibility of a European forgery made at any time after August 1799. From September 1799, it was too easily known in Europe that Napoleon had in fact never captured the Holy City. Moreover, a rapidly growing body of published accounts of the "Syrian" campaign conclusively confirmed that Napoleon had never been in Jerusalem. Thus, what are the odds that (an otherwise astute) forger would so carelessly site Napoleon's headquarters there? This particular aspect powerfully argues that the alleged Napoleon letter is unlikely to be a counterfeit confected at any time after August 1799.

Given late 18th-century logistics, it is absolutely impossible for a communication that had been issued in or near Jerusalem on April 20, 1799, to feature in one or more West European newspapers as early as May 14th to 22nd of that same year. For this reason, the letter's April 20th date is in itself one of the main objections to any theory alleging a forgery made after mid-May 1799. From then to the present day, it has always been too well known that one or more West European newspapers had already carried reports of an undated Napoleon proclamation. Thus, any rational forger would have tried to piggyback on the substantial credibility of those newspaper items. Namely, he would have opted to count backwards from the earliest known day of European newspaper publication, in order to cleverly date his own Napoleon fabrication no later than mid-March 1799. Such antedating would have been logically necessary to accommodate the more-or-less two months then normally required for Holy Land news to wend its way to Western Europe.

Napoleon's 1798-9 proclamations for Muslims were intentionally drafted with something of an Islamic flavor. In the same vein, this letter to "Israelites" is peppered with biblical personalities and citations. But these were drawn, not from the Jewish Bible, but rather from the Catholic Old Testament, known to be among the tomes in Napoleon's personal library in Ottoman Syria. To the point, the alleged Napoleon letter specifically cites the Book of Maccabees. This features in the Catholic Old Testament, but in neither the Jewish Bible nor the Protestant versions. Thus, this letter was not from a Jewish pen. No matter what the sect or stripe, no Jew in his right mind would in 1799 have tried to influence other Jews generally, with a citation from the Catholic Old Testament.

Rather, the letter's authorship is suggested by its celebration of Israelites as descendants of the Maccabees, who are honored as heroes worthy of their "fraternal alliance" with Sparta and Rome. This obscure diplomatic detail, taken straight from the Book of Maccabees, is exactly the kind of classical reference that fascinated Napoleon. Here, the rhetoric regarding Rome and Sparta matches his usual perorations elsewhere.

For sure, this letter dovetails with the formula so authoritatively described by General Desaix (September 1797): "He reminds them of their ancient glory, their ancient name; he instructs them about the astonishing and prodigious feats of the French." France is here portrayed as fighting in self-defense to guard her own territory against the theft of foreign Cabinets. Thus, hers is a just war that also helps fulfill a revolutionary duty to avenge the disgrace of "forgotten nations long under the yoke of slavery." Here ringing authentic are these legal and moral justifications for the Revolutionary French Republic, which is highlighted as la grande nation, in the German text "die große Nation." This was a prominent foreign-relations concept that certainly featured frequently in Napoleon's public writing during the late 1790s.

With the German words, Erben (heirs), Erbteil (inheritance), Erbländer (hereditrary lands) and Erbreich (hereditary dominion), heavy emphasis is placed on the notion of hereditary or aboriginal right which is logically companion to an ancient name. Such onomastic pedigree is something that we have already seen to be often emphasized in Napoleon's rhetoric. "Israelites" are twice addressed as "the lawful heirs of Palestine" and encouraged to hasten home to reclaim their patrimony. Similarly, the expression "Israels Erbteil" points to the millennial legacy of "the people Israel."

In the context of the new political doctrine of self-determination, the alleged Napoleon letter places great emphasis on Israelite peoplehood. The word "Volksexistenz" (existence as a People) notably appears twice. In the first instance, it is stressed that: "Tyranny and lust for conquest have been able to deprive the Israelites of their hereditary lands but unable to take away, not even in millennia, their name and their existence as a People (Volksexistenz)."

In the second place, the letter concludes with an exhortation to Israelites to seize the opportunity to reclaim their "political existence as a People among the nations" (politische Volksexistenz der Nationen). As already seen above, "resume our rank among the nations" was the similar phrase in the 1798 Lettre d'un Juif, and "restorer of their political existence" was the almost identical language used by Mallet du Pan contemporaneously. More to the point, similar expressions came easily to Napoleon -- for example, in his proclamation to the Hungarians (May 15, 1809): "You have national customs; a national language: You take pride in an illustrious and ancient origin. Therefore, take up again your existence as a nation!"

In connection with Volksexistenz, some scholars seem to be insufficiently aware of the striking modernity of the 1796-9 French-Revolutionary rhetoric surrounding peoplehood and the right to self-determination. Thus, a few historians mistakenly imagine that, in the alleged Napoleon letter, they can spot anachronism that seeks to import later Zionist concepts into 1799. But, this "anachronism" theory is highly improbable for at least four reasons:
  1. The letter was unlikely to have been written by a Jew. (Jewish authorship is further discounted in later paragraphs on the Jews of Prague.)
  2. Almost all the scholars who have carefully studied its contents believe that, whether a forgery or not, the letter really dates from 1799.
  3. The "anachronism" claim irrationally focuses on what Theodor Herzl was saying in the late 1890s, while illogically ignoring what revolutionaries were already saying one hundred years earlier (1796-9).
  4. The French-Revolutionary precepts about peoplehood and self-determination were both fundamental and universal, as already discussed in the preface.
Thus, the question remains: Were Jews specifically excluded from the benefits of the pertinent revolutionary doctrines, as then understood? "Yes, excluded!" quickly replies that persistent bias against Jews which even today still encourages dogmatic adherence to an unproven historical presumption -- namely, the stubborn belief that Jews could not possibly have then been seen as qualified for peoplehood and self-determination in their ancestral homeland. But, that highly discriminatory premise is roundly refuted by the record of revolutionary theory and practice from 1796 to 1799, as detailed above and below.

If we see this letter as genuine, it could perhaps have been written after the Battle of Mount Tabor (April 16, 1799), where Napoleon decisively defeated a regional Ottoman army led by the Pasha of Damascus. Judged from the sometimes trivial subject matter of his contemporary correspondence, Napoleon then had lots of time on his hands. Perhaps he used some hours in further efforts to spark rebellion among the disparate elements of the population. At that time, he wanted to get all "Syria" to revolt against the Ottomans, as confirmed by his then private secretary Louis de Bourrienne. The latter recorded verbatim Napoleon's conception of what was to have followed the expected (but ultimately unrealized) French conquest of Ottoman Acre. There, Napoleon counted on capturing a great pile of cash and a large store of arms and ammunition (May 8, 1799):
I march on Damascus and Aleppo. While advancing into the country, I grow my army with all the discontented; I announce to the people the abolition of servitude and of the tyrannical governments of the pashas.
In spring 1799, Napoleon had harbored hopes of maybe conquering the whole Ottoman Empire and then perhaps pressing onward either through the Balkans to Habsburg Vienna or via Iran to attack British India. Utter disappointment came only toward the end of May, when failure to take Ottoman Acre seemed to him a turning point in world history. And, he still keenly felt so twenty years later.

Rabbi Aaron's covering letter 

The 1939 German-language typescript also transcribes the text of a covering letter which, in origin and authorship, is perhaps related to the alleged Napoleon letter, or maybe entirely independent. The 1799 translator placed both letters under a common description as a translation into German; in this instance, from an original, foreign-language document said to be written by a certain "Aaron, son of Levi, Rabbi of Jerusalem." The covering letter's declared target audience lies not in Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬), but rather in the diaspora, with "the children of captivity." As in the foregoing alleged Napoleon letter, so here too the words "Jews" and "Jewish" do not appear.

The source language is unspecified, but generally presumed to have been Hebrew. Claiming to originate from Jerusalem, the alleged rabbinic letter was dated, according to the Hebrew calendar, Nisan 5559. In 1799, this Hebrew month began on April 6th and ended at sunset on May 5th. This companion letter calls for rebuilding both the city walls and a Temple in Jerusalem; and significantly summons to arms all the able-bodied men of Israel, no matter where they live. The Revolutionary French Republic is twice saluted as la grande nation (die große Nation). Pointing to Gideon in the Book of Judges, the covering letter ends with a shout: "Hier Schwerdt des Herrn und Buonaparte!" (Here the sword of the Lord and Buonaparte!)

Aaron, the brother of Moses?

Who was this "Rabbi Aaron" who describes himself as "after countless generations again here in the Holy City first rabbi and priest"? Nobody knows. And, perhaps there never was such a real historical person in the 18th century. To the point, Judaism had famously had no "priests" since the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). Following this logic, Aaron's puzzling self-description as "first rabbi and priest" must therefore be understood as prolepsis. Via this rhetorical device, the writer flashes forward into the future. His purpose is to dramatize the promise that (with the imminent rebuilding of the Temple) a direct descendant of the biblical Aaron the Levite will once again function as high priest. Thus, "Aaron, son of Levi" is probably intended to be a generic reference to any canonically-qualified "Kohen."

This no-name hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Napoleon had already (September 7, 1798) appointed Cairo Rabbis Sabbato Adda and Telebi di Figura as "high priests of the Jewish People," (grands prêtres de la nation juive). But, Adda and Figura were far away in French-occupied Egypt. So, who else would be willing to lend rabbinical authority to the covering letter? Signing such a seditious text with an actual person's name would have been exceedingly perilous, whether in the Ottoman Empire or the several European countries of the counter-revolution. Thus, in the Holy Land, as in so many of the other places where Jews lived, no important rabbi would have dared to sign such an inflammatory document.

In 1799, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem was Haim ben Asher Yom Tov Algazy. Like the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Rabbi Algazy then prudently advertised his opposition to the French revolutionaries and publicly demonstrated loyalty to the Sultan. Algazy clung all the tighter to the Ottomans, because -- as so many times in the past -- the various other elements of the local population were trying to incriminate Jews, in this instance by charging complicity with Napoleon. To the point, a Jew wrote a Hebrew letter from Jerusalem (summer 1799):
Since Egypt and the neighboring provinces have been occupied [July-August 1798], a great misfortune has befallen us through the wickedness of the non-Jewish population. They have slandered us by saying that, among the [French] army, twelve thousand military volunteers are serving who are children of Israel. This has done us harm beyond measure. We are being attacked daily, and they threaten to kill us and to destroy all Jews, the inhabitants of Zion, God forbid!

Since 1944, there has been conjecture that the mysterious Rabbi Aaron might perhaps have been Moshe Aharon Halevi, who in 1799 was president of one of Jerusalem's four rabbincal courts. As such, he was no "priest," but entitled to be called "first rabbi," only when presiding. However, to exert his due influence, such an eminent rabbi would probably have used his full name for the covering letter. Even more peculiar is omission of his first name, because "Moshe" famously symbolizes leadership of the Jewish People. In 1799, Moshe Aharon Halevi temporarily returned to his hometown Salonika to tend to the printing of a book of his writings. But, by summer 1799, he reappeared in Jerusalem where he cosigned, with some other local rabbis, a letter to Italian Jews that will be discussed below. This means that he must have felt safe enough to remain in the Ottoman Empire, even after Napoleon's withdrawal. For these reasons, Moshe Aharon Halevi is unlikely to have been the radical rabbi of the covering letter.

Sabbateans, Frankists and Kabbalists

Studying the covering letter, commentators are struck by a flowery melitzah epistolary style; a very particular choice of biblical quotes; and special significance in the expressions "Jehova Zebaoth" (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת Lord of Hosts) and "der Samen Jakobs" (the seed of Jacob). Such proof has led some to conclude that the covering letter was indeed drafted by a Jew who must also have been one or more of Sabbatean, Frankist and Kabbalist. Sabbateans were Jewish followers of the 17th-century false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi (d. 1676), just as Frankists followed the 18th-century false Messiah Jacob Frank (d. 1791). Kabbalism is a significant current of Jewish belief, mysticism and philosophy that informed Sabbateans, Frankists and some other important expressions of Judaism.

If the covering letter truly suggests one or more of Sabbateanism, Frankism and Kabbalism, that would logically be no evidence against a companion hypothesis that the Jewish writer was perhaps simultaneously a French-Revolutionary agent, whether working near Napoleon or further afield. It has been said that Sabbateans, Frankists and Kabbalists were strongly attracted to Napoleon because they thought him to be one or more of anti-Catholic, victorious, and radical. Moreover, we shall later see that the Directory, at that time, already knew that many Jews believed Napoleon to be the Messiah. The same assessment of such Jewish belief was also made by experienced Austrian diplomat Count Johann Philipp Stadion. Later as Foreign Minister (1805-1809), Stadion remained obsessed with the idea that "in all of Europe the Jews consider the Emperor Napoleon as their Messiah and proclaim it openly."

If so, we cannot just leave it at that -- as some have done -- but rather must also examine Napoleon himself. For his part, he was most certainly (at that time) a true revolutionary and a famous opponent of both Royalists and the Roman-Catholic Church. He was a former Jacobin, close to Maximilien Robespierre's brother Augustin. In both 1795 and 1797, he played a principal part in frustrating actual or imminent right-wing coups against the Directory.

Starting from 1796, he exported the French Revolution to Roman-Catholic Italy. In February 1797, he forced the papacy to pay heavy contributions in cash, cede part of its territories, surrender several hundred ancient manuscripts, and deliver famous works of art. By authority of the Directory, Napoleon from Paris issued the orders (January 11, 1798) for the military occupation of Rome and indigenous creation of a revolutionary Roman Republic. This new sister Republic would replace the pontifical government of Pius VI who was derisively called "Citizen Pope" by the troops of the French Revolutionary Army. Napoleon wanted Pius VI to be scared enough to flee Rome. Moreover, during his Mideast campaign, Napoleon's proclamations and letters to Muslims repeatedly boasted that the French had destroyed both the papal throne and the reviled Roman-Catholic Order of the Knights of Saint John.

Like other revolutionaries, Napoleon persistently denied the divinity of Christ. Consider the theology atop the Arabic version of his proclamation to the people of Egypt (July 1798): "In the name of God, the clement and the merciful. There is no divinity save Allah; He has no son and shares His power with no one." The aforementioned proleptic proclamation "to the inhabitants of Syria" also begins with a similar denial of Christ's divinity.

Napoleon went even further by claiming that, by virtue of the Revolution, the French themselves had become Muslims. For example, the Arabic version of the proclamation to the people of Egypt says (July 1798): "Kadis, sheiks, imams, tchorbadjis! Tell the people that the French are also true Muslims." There is this same astonishing Muslim assertion in Napoleon's letter to Ahmet Cezzar Pasha, based in Acre (September 12, 1798):
We are no longer like the infidels of those barbarous times who were coming to fight your faith. [To the contrary, now] we recognize it to be sublime, we adhere to it, and the moment has arrived when all regenerated Frenchmen will also become your believers.

Napoleon was irreverent, skeptical, opportunistic and inventive. These qualities were expertly assessed by the Austrian Ambassador in Paris, Klemens von Metternich. In September and October 1806, he reported to Vienna his shrewd observation that Napoleon was quick to spot potential political advantage in Jewish messianic belief. In that same vein, in Egypt in his proclamations to Muslims, Napoleon had purposely portrayed himself in the light of the closely-related Islamic concept of the Mahdi (Arabic: مهدي), preordained by God to conquer that country. Thus, it is certain that, from time to time, Napoleon was eager to create the impression that he might be the Muslim or the Jewish Messiah.

Napoleon was fully in step with the pointedly anti-Catholic championing of the Jews that marked revolutionaries in the years from 1796 to 1799. In recruiting Jews to serve as spies, agents and emissaries, Napoleon would likely have specially sought out Sabbatean, Frankist and Kabbalist sectaries. Such Jews were then said to be particularly numerous in Italy, where Jewish attachment to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) remained especially strong, even in the 1790s. Who better than they to revolutionize the Jewish People for Napoleon's effort to destroy the Ottoman Empire? (Sabbateans, Frankists and Kabbalists will reappear in later discussion of the Jews of Prague.)

Proclamation or letter?

The 1939 German-language typescript nowhere contains the word "proclamation." To the point, Rabbi Aaron's text describes the companion Napoleon piece as a "letter" or Zuschrift. This is also the label that the 1799 translator applies to both items. By contrast to "proclamation" which intrinsically has a public character, "letter" preserves the possibility of confidentiality. Even so, after the French retreat, local Muslims launched pogroms, including the execution of two Jewish students. Moreover, the Jews of Jerusalem and Tiberias were falsely accused of collaboration with the enemy, as an Ottoman pretext for extorting huge bribes.

In summer 1799, Moshe Aharon Halevi and other Jerusalem Rabbis prepared a Hebrew letter for dispatch to Jewish communities in Italy. Therein, they described the negative effects of Napoleon's campaign on the Jews of Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬):
Since the conquest of Egypt, we are having problems with the local populations, which accuse us of having furnished twelve thousand soldiers to Bonaparte. This charge has caused us much trouble, starting from the summer of 1798 to this present summer. Our Jews materially and morally suffered losses from the fighting at Jaffa and Acre. Now, in addition, they have had to sell all their jewels and luxury items in order to raise money to appease the anger of their neighbors.
All this underlines that Mideast Jews were a vulnerable aboriginal minority. Evidently, considerable discretion was needed for conducting relations with them. After his Islamic experience in Egypt (1798), Napoleon would likely have known that a public announcement favoring Jews would enrage both Muslims and Mideast Christians, and endanger Jews throughout the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in 1799, he would probably have opted for secretly sending a series of confidential letters rather than openly publishing proclamations to the Jews.

The "proclamation" in the European press

The world seems to have known little or nothing about Napoleon's appeal to the "Israelites" in the letter of April 20, 1799. But most certainly way too soon to have then originated from distant Ottoman Syria came May 1799 European tidings about an apparently earlier, undated, and likely unrelated, Napoleon "proclamation to the Jews."

To be sure, it was then impossible for an account of an April 20th Napoleon letter in Ottoman Syria to reach European cities quickly enough to appear in their newspapers before June of that same year. For example, consider the speedy reporting about the first French assault (March 28, 1799) on Acre, where fast British warships were exceptionally present. This Acre topic featured in an April 19th Constantinople report, first published in the Wiener Zeitung on May 7th, and in Mannheim's Journal Politique de l'Europe on May 19th. Inclusive of dates of occurrence and European printing, it took no fewer than 41 days for this Acre story to hit the streets of Vienna, and a total of 53 days for Mannheim. About 51 days were needed for London to print similar Acre news, as in the Lloyd's Evening-Post (May 17, 1799).

The story about a Napoleon proclamation to the Jews featured in the May 1799 Lady's Magazine of London; and in at least eleven newspapers in Germany, England and France, starting circa May 12th and extending until May 22nd. The slow speed of contemporary travel dictates that these European articles could not possibly reflect reports of Holy Land events occurring after March 1799. Thus, there has been informed speculation that Napoleon perhaps wrote such a document some time in the week after his conquest of Jaffa (March 7, 1799). If Napoleon then wrote something specifically for the Jews, the copy he kept for the record was probably purposely destroyed in the 19th century, exactly as described in the preface.

It is also possible that one or more of the May 1799 articles in the European press were triggered, not by news of a 1799 document written by Napoleon in the Holy Land, but rather by deferred revelation in Constantinople of information about the proclamation (beyanname بياننامه) that, according to Cevdet Pasha, the Turks had first heard about in the period before the Sultan's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798).

With regard to the source for the May 1799 European articles telling the proclamation story, most of the contemporary newspapers refer to an April 1799 report, whether dated the 12th, the 17th or the 22nd. Each one of these reports is specifically described as coming from Constantinople. This April 1799 news from Turkey seems to have been initially published, circa May 12th, most likely in the French-language Gazette de Hambourg, a city that was neutral during the War of the Second Coalition. If so, verification can only be indirect, because the spring 1799 numbers of the Gazette de Hambourg are extremely rare or no longer exist. I have been unable to find them.

But, let us turn our attention to the press of Berlin, the capital of another neutral power, Prussia. News of an alleged April 22nd Constantinople report features in the Vossische Zeitung, Number 58 (May 14, 1799):
Konstantinopel, den 22. April. Buonaparte hat, wie es heißt, eine Proklamation an die Juden in mehreren Afrikanischen und Asiatischen Gegenden erlassen, um das Reich von Jerusalem wieder herzustellen. Auch soll er eine beträchtliche Anzahl Juden bewaffnet, in Bataillons formirt haben, und jetzt Aleppo bedrohen. Die Einwohner in der Gegend von Damascus sollen gegen die Pforte in Insurrektion zu seyn. -- Mit der Großvezier sollen auch viele Janitscharen nach Syrien abgehen.  Der Großherr hatte erst selbst nach Syrien abgehen wollen, wogegen aber die nachdrücklichstens Vorstellungen gemacht wurden. Unter den Französ. Truppen in Aegypten sollen fortdauernd ansteckende Krankheiten herrschen. Man erwartet hier ehestens aus der Krimm eine zweite nach dem Mittelländischen Meere bestimmte Russische Flotte.  --  Der Bruder des hiesigen Französischen Schiffbaumeisters, Le Brun, der sich sehr demokratisch zeigte, ist aus dem Türkischen Dienste entlassen worden. Für den Schiffbaumeister selbst besorgt man noch ein schlimmeres Schicksal. 
[Constantinople, April 22nd. Buonaparte has reportedly issued a proclamation to the Jews in several African and Asian places, to rebuild the Empire of Jerusalem. He is also said to have armed a considerable number of Jews, formed them into battalions, and to be now threatening Aleppo. The inhabitants in the area of Damascus are said to be in rebellion against the Sublime Porte. -- Many janissaries are expected to go to Syria with the Grand Vizier. The Sultan at first wanted to go to Syria himself, but the most emphatic representations were made against this idea. Persistently contagious diseases are said to prevail among the French troops in Egypt. Expected here any time now, from the Crimea, is a second Russian fleet bound for the Mediterranean Sea. -- The brother of the local French shipwright, Le Brun, who showed himself to be very democratic, has been dismissed from the Turkish service. For the shipwright himself, an even worse fate is feared.]

Berlin, Vossische Zeitung, Number 58,
Tuesday, May 14, 1799.

Only 23 days for Constantinople news to get printed in Berlin? The distance was 1,364 miles, over mostly bad roads. Given the slow pace of 18th-century travel, is it likely that a Constantinople report sent out on April 22nd could arrive in Berlin soon enough for the May 14th edition? Possible, but certainly fast transmission. Thus, this raises the question: Is the initial digit in the April 22nd date perhaps a typographical error? If so, the true Berlin source would likely be the same April 12th report that features in the Gazette de Hambourg and some other contemporary newspapers.

The phrase "several African and Asian places" in the first sentence of the German-language text of the Vossische Zeitung can conceivably be understood as referring either to the sites of issuance of the Napoleon proclamation or to the places of residence of the recipient Jews. But, no matter which translation option is chosen, those "places" are likely intended to refer to the territory of the Ottoman Empire.

The hypothesis that the Vossische Zeitung's story about the Napoleon proclamation to the Jews might have originated from an issuance, perhaps made before 1799, is supported by careful analysis of the background of each one of the seven other news items in the alleged April 22nd Constantinople report. External evidence suggests that, of the seven companion topics, no fewer than five describe events that can be shown to have occurred, in whole or in part, before 1799:
  • The tale that Napoleon had "armed a considerable number of Jews" was already, in the summer of 1798, a persistent rumor in Ottoman Syria, as specifically affirmed by the aforementioned two Hebrew letters from Jerusalem.
  • Dovetailing with 1798 events was news that inhabitants of Damascus region were in revolt against the Sublime Porte.
  • Epidemics among French soldiers in Alexandria, Damietta and Mansoura began in December 1798.
  • As early as October 24, 1798, the Wiener Zeitung announced that a second Russian fleet would be coming from the Crimea to the Mediterranean.
  • Long gone were fears for the fate of the Le Brun brothers in Constantinople, because those two French shipwrights were, by January 1, 1799, safe in Saint Petersburg, where they soon agreed to serve the Imperial Russian Navy.
Thus, there is no reason to reject the possibility that the Vossische Zeitung story about the proclamation to the Jews perhaps reflects a document issued by Napoleon before 1799, and maybe even in the period before the Sultan's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798), exactly as presented in the official Ottoman history by Ahmet Cevdet Pasha.

London, The True Briton, No 1997, 
Friday, May 17, 1799.

Too soon to have been copied from the Vossische Zeitung, but most likely derived from prior publication in the Gazette de Hambourg, was the same story in London's The True Briton, Friday, May 17th. This alleged an April 12th Constantinople report, news of which had arrived late on Thursday evening, in the mails from Hamburg. That very same day, The True Briton article also appeared verbatim in The Star of London and in the Lloyd's Evening-Post (May 17, 1799):
Buonaparte, it is said, has published a Proclamation to the Jews dispersed in Africa and Asia [i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire], inviting them to restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He has armed a great number of Jews, and formed them into Battalions; and now threatens Aleppo.

A proclamation to all world Jewry to come to Jerusalem to help "Buonaparte" rebuild the Temple was the striking version in the Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung. This also alleged an April 12th report from Constantinople, but revealed nothing about how this remarkable news had arrived in Augsburg. Perhaps the story was less likely to have been copied from the Berlin Vossische Zeitung which had explicitly claimed an April 22nd source. The Postzeitung item was published on May 18, 1799:
Konstantinopel, den 12. April. Buonaparte hat an die Juden in allen Welttheilen eine Proklamation erlassen, durch die er sie einladet, nach Jerusalem zu kommen, weil er ihr Reich und ihren Tempel wieder aufrichten wolle. Er hat auch bereits unter seiner Armee einige Bataillons Juden. -- Der Großsultan war anfänglich entschlossen, die türkische Armee gegen Buonaparte selbst anzuführen. Der Diwan aber war dagegen. Unter den französischen Truppen in Aegypten soll die Pest herrschen. 
[Constantinople, April 12th. Buonaparte has issued to the Jews in all parts of the world a proclamation, whereby he invites them to come to Jerusalem, because he wants to restore their realm and their temple. He already has several Jewish battalions in his army. -- The great sultan had initially decided to himself lead the Turkish army against Buonaparte, but the divan was against it. The plague is said to be ravaging the French troops in Egypt.]

Augsburg, Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung, Number 118,
Saturday, May 18, 1799, page 2.

On May 19, 1799, the Sunday newspaper, Bell's Weekly Messenger of London published its own "Turkey" news referring to entirely Jewish battalions in the French Army of the Orient. Highlighted was a proclamation from "Buonaparte" calling upon "the Jews dispersed over Asia and Africa" (i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire) to restore "the kingdom of Jerusalem." This account was also based on an alleged April 12th Constantinople report, said to be derived "from the Hamburgh Mails."

London, Bell's Weekly Messenger,
Sunday, May 19, 1799,  page 155.

Quoting verbatim an undated recent issue of the now unavailable Gazette de Hambourg was the proclamation story in the French-language Journal Politique de l'Europe of Mannheim (May 19, 1799):
La gazette de Hambourg rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 12 avril, où il est dit: "Bonaparte a adressé une proclamation aux juifs de l'Afrique & de l'Asie [i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire], dans laquelle il annonce le projet de rétablir le royaume de Jérusalem & les invite à y concourir. Ce général a déjà armé, dit-on, un nombre considérable de juifs, & les a organisés en bataillons. L'on attend incessamment ici (à Constantinople) de la Crimée, une seconde flotte Russe, destinée pour la Méditerranée."
-- La gazette de Vienne [Die Wiener Zeitung] du 7 [May 1799] rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 19 avril, qui dit que l'armée françoise en Syrie a été repousée dans sa première attaque [March 28, 1799] contre St. Jean-d'Acre.
[The gazette of Hambourg reports from Constantinople a letter of April 12th, wherein it is said: "Bonaparte has addressed a proclamation to the Jews of Africa and Asia {i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire}, in which he announces the plan to reestablish the Kingdom of Jerusalem and invites them to rush there together. This general has already armed a considerable number of Jews, and has organized them into battalions. Here (in Constantinople) we await any time now the arrival of a second Russian fleet, bound for the Mediterranean."
--The gazette of Vienna {Die Wiener Zeitung} of the 7th {May 1799} reports a letter from Constantinople of April 19th, which says that the French army in Syria has been rebuffed in its first attack {March 28, 1799} against Acre.] 

Mannheim, Journal Politique de l'Europe, Number 138,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, page 4.

In this Mannheim version "juifs de l'Afrique et de l'Asie" most likely means the Jews of the entire Ottoman Empire, including Turkey in Europe. This Mannheim text also refers to armed Jewish battalions, but says nothing about Aleppo. Moreover, applicable here too is the earlier analysis of the similar story in Berlin's Vossische Zeitung. Thus, in the Journal Politique de l'Europe, the April 12th Constantinople letter (as quoted from the Gazette de Hambourg) contains nothing that could not be about events that, in whole or in part, happened before 1799. This starkly contrasts with the separate April 19th Constantinople letter which clearly covers events that could only have occurred in spring 1799. The pertinent point is that nothing in the April 12th Constantinople letter prevents us from linking the proclamation referred to there with the one that Cevdet Pasha assigns to the period before September 10, 1798.

The same is true of the proclamation story as told in the Allgemeine Zeitung of Munich. This newspaper item has neither dated source nor mention of any armed Jewish battalions (May 22, 1799):
Türkei. Nachrichten aus Konstantinopel sprechen von einer Proklamation, welche Bonaparte an die Juden von Afrika und Asien [i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire] erlassen habe, um ihnen anzukündigen, daß er das Königreich von Jerusalem wiederherzustellen gedenke, und ihren Beistand hiezu erwarte. -- Man erwartete, daß eine zweite, nach dem Mittel-Meer bestimmte, russische Flotte noch im April zu Konstantinopel eintreffen würde.
[Turkey. News reports from Constantinople speak of a proclamation which Bonaparte has issued to the Jews of Africa and Asia {i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire} in order to inform them that he is thinking about restoring the Kingdom of Jerusalem and expects their assistance therewith. -- A second Russian fleet bound for the Mediterranean Sea was expected to have arrived in Constantinople before the end of April.]

Munich, Allgemeine Zeitung, Number 142,
Wednesday, May 22, 1799, page 606.

Le Moniteur, May 22, 1799

The proclamation story was the first item on the front page of Le Moniteur (Paris). There, it probably appeared too soon to have been copied from London, Augsburg, Mannheim, or Munich. In terms of both timing and specific content, we can guess that the story in Le Moniteur was likely derived, not from the French-language Gazette de Hambourg, but mostly from the German-language text in the May 14th Vossische Zeitung of Berlin.

Such Paris plagiarism is hardly surprising, because the French government generally lacked much own-source information as to what was really transpiring in the Mideast, just as Napoleon was then getting very little news from Europe. Nonetheless, the article in Le Moniteur was politically significant, because that newspaper was known to regularly publish news, as provided by the Directory. Clearly, the editors would have waited for an official green light before rushing to print front-page news about Napoleon, who was of key concern to the Directors.

At least the first paragraph from Le Moniteur (below) also appeared, on that same day, verbatim in Le Propagateur (Paris). Both Paris newspapers curiously cited as source an alleged April 17th report from Constantinople (May 22, 1799):
Constantinople, le 28 germinal. Bonaparte a fait publier une proclamation dans laquelle il invite tous les juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique [i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire] à venir se ranger sous ses drapeaux pour rétablir l'ancienne Jérusalem. Il en a déjà armé un grand nombre, et leurs bataillons menacent Alep. 
Les habitans des environs de Damas sont en insurrection contre la Porte. 
Le grand-seigneur doit partir incessament pour la Syrie, afin de commander, en personne, contre Bonaparte. 
Le grand-visir, à la tête d'un corps considérable de janissaires, doit aussi se mettre en route au commencement de floréal. 
[Constantinople, April 17th. Bonaparte arranged for the publication of a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and Africa {i.e. the Jews of the Ottoman Empire} to come line up under his banners in order to reestablish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number of them, and their battalions are threatening Aleppo. 
In the Damascus area, the inhabitants are in rebellion against the Sublime Porte. 
In order to personally command against Bonaparte, the Sultan is expected to leave for Syria any time now. 
At the head of a considerable body of janissaries, the Grand Vizier too ought to be setting out around the 20th of April.]

(prominent as first item on the front page)
Paris, Le Moniteur, No 243, Tridi, 3 prairial an VII
(Wednesday, May 22, 1799).

"All the Jews of Asia and Africa," (tous les juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique) most probably means the Jews of the entire Ottoman Empire, including almost all of the Balkan lands. The pertinent geopolitical perspective is likely that of the contemporary Habsburg diplomat and statesman Klemens von Metternich, who famously quipped, "Asia begins at the Landstraße," in Vienna.

The version of the proclamation story in Le Moniteur and Le Propagateur is unique in specifically including a call to the colors. Namely, only in those two newspapers are Jews explicitly summoned to line up in ranks under Napoleon's banner. The addition of this specifically martial element is significant, as absent in the other May 1799 articles, and also notably missing from Cevdet Pasha's account of a Jewish proclamation, made at some time before September 10, 1798.

Also only in the version in Le Moniteur and Le Propagateur is reference made to "l'ancienne Jérusalem" (ancient or old Jerusalem). This particular expression was invented, perhaps because the editors as revolutionaries revered classical antiquity, and respected the Jews of the Hebrew Bible. By contrast, they were primed to disdain anything smacking of the medieval Catholic Church. Thus, in interpreting the German text in the Vossische Zeitung, they purposely mistranslated the millenarian phrase "Reich von Jerusalem," (empire or kingdom of Jerusalem). This matter gets more attention below.

For the most part, the account in Le Moniteur contains little that could not have been derived (more or less accurately) from the German-language text in Berlin's Vossische Zeitung, which had covered more ground. However, the incredible claim that armed Jewish battalions were then threatening Aleppo is notably absent from the Mannheim quotation from the Gazette de Hambourg, and also missing from the Berlin, London, Augsburg, and Munich versions.

In 1797-9, Le Moniteur sometimes liked to highlight revolutionary Jews as soldiers, as in the aforementioned addition of a call to the colors. But, this strange Aleppo story is otherwise to be explained as a mistranslation of the German-language text in the Vossische Zeitung. The latter clearly states that it was Bonaparte who was then threatening Aleppo, not the Jewish battalions. This particular point is confirmed by careful reading of the words and punctuation of the English-language version of the same Aleppo story in The True Briton, The Star, Lloyd's Evening-Post, and Bell's Weekly Messenger.

Moreover, the Munich Allgemeine Zeitung (Thursday, May 23, 1799), while saying nothing about Jewish battalions, refers to an April 22nd Constantinople report, indicating that it was specifically the French who were then threatening Aleppo. As already noted, armed Jews battalions are also completely absent from the proclamation story, as told in the Allgemeine Zeitung (Wednesday, May 22, 1799).

"The Kingdom of Jerusalem"

This is a curious (even apocalyptic) phrase that merits our attention. We have already seen similar millenarian language in the 1798 Lettre d'un Juif as "l'empire de Jérusalem." Then, there are the May 1799 newspapers -- namely, the Vossische Zeitung speaks of "das Reich von Jerusalem"; The True Briton, The Star, Lloyd's Evening-Post, and Bell's Weekly Messenger all talk of "the Kingdom of Jerusalem"; in the Allgemeine Zeitung, the word is "das Königreich von Jerusalem"; and the Gazette de Hambourg, as quoted in the Journal Politique de l'Europe, refers to "le royaume de Jérusalem."

This is a Christian rather than a Jewish term. In the Jewish Bible, there is no Israelite or Jewish "kingdom of Jerusalem." The Jewish Bible has many reverential references to the city of Jerusalem, but for geopolitical taxonomy famously focuses on the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and on the persistent idea of the "Land of Israel" (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬ Eretz Yisrael).

By contrast, some Christian Bibles mention the "kingdom of Jerusalem" at least once in the supersessionist Book of Esdras: "Thus saith the Lord unto Esdras, Tell My people that I will give them the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which I would have given unto Israel." Historically, that passage sufficed for naming the medieval, Catholic Crusader state, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thus, the millenarian phrase "empire" or "kingdom" of Jerusalem was in Le Moniteur (May 22, 1799) purposely suppressed and replaced by "l'ancienne Jérusalem."

Jerusalem or "David's City" is juridically just an historic, municipal toponym in the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20, 1799. There, "Israelites" are twice saluted as "rightful heirs of Palestine." By contrast, there in no "Palestine" in Lettre d'un Juif, where "Jews" and "Israelites" are to be restored to "the homeland" (la patrie). Anonymous also incidentally mentions "the Holy Land" (la Terre sainte). But more to the point, Lettre d'un Juif specifically points to Jerusalem as "this sacred city" (cette cité sacrée) and showcases the extraordinary millenarian expression, l'empire de Jérusalem.

Is it merely coincidental that l'empire de Jérusalem, as a clearly-political term in Lettre d'un Juif, so closely matches Cevdet Pasha's account of a contemporary revolutionary proclamation calling on Jews everywhere to come together to agree on "establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem," (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل)? Also striking is the use of such markedly-political "Jerusalem" nomenclature across Lettre d'un Juif and nine of the twelve of our May 1799 publications reporting the Napoleon proclamation to the Jews.

We have seen that Napoleon, already in 1797, was using agents in the Ottoman lands to secretly distribute revolutionary proclamations, pamphlets, poems, letters, songs, engravings, etc. This wide-ranging communications program probably included one or more proclamations referring specifically to both Jews and a Jewish kingdom or government in Jerusalem. The circulation of these Jewish proclamations perhaps began earlier than September 1797, just as suggested in the account by General Desaix. Such a propaganda initiative was importantly corroborated by Mallet du Pan; and then explicitly confirmed by Cevdet Pasha, based on the Ottoman sources available to him in Constantinople.

Napoleon never disavowed

During more than five years as an exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon persistently combed through the back issues of Le Moniteur. He would thus have been reminded of the amazing story of the proclamation to the Jews, published there on May 22, 1799. Nonetheless, he notably never disavowed this particular news item. To the point, around 1819, his own account of the "Syrian" campaign repeatedly refers to Jews, but most carefully says nothing about issuance to them of any "proclamation."

Before his May 1821 death, Napoleon had more than two decades, during which he could easily have denounced as fake news, the May 1799 newspaper reports about his proclamation to the Jews. And, he had incentive to do so. The end of the French Revolution (November 1799) coincided with more open expression of hatred towards Jews, across Europe. Such antisemitism became even stronger in the reactionary era, immediately after Napoleon's final fall (1815). Then, repudiating the proclamation story would have flattered Catholic opinion. Arguably, a specific denial of authorship would have been advantageous to Napoleon, both while he was in power and after he left office. Then, disavowal might perhaps have enhanced restoration odds for himself or his son.

Thus, we must ask: Why did Napoleon refrain from tarring these May 1799 reports as fake news? Maybe he remained silent from a reasonable fear that, despite having deliberately burned the official papers, perhaps there might still survive some other evidence, proving that he had indeed issued one or more invitations to the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland.

Age-old messianism stimulated  

The fascinating "proclamation" story reappeared in the Paris press on May 29th and again on June 27, 1799. For example, La Décade philosophique saluted "invincible Bonaparte" as "master of Syria" and faithfully repeated from Le Moniteur, a fanciful figure that multiplied by eight the troop numbers under Napoleon (May 29, 1799):
At the head of an army of one hundred thousand men, [Bonaparte] has proclaimed the delivery of Jerusalem and Judea, and calls back to their ancient homeland the Hebrews dispersed on the planet. Who knows? Perhaps they are going to see in him the Messiah, and soon twenty prophecies will have predicted the happening, the epoch, even unto the circumstance of his coming. It is at the least very probable that the Jewish People will reconstitute itself as the body of a nation, that the Temple of Solomon will be rebuilt.
In the same hyperbolic vein was a report from Bell's Weekly Messenger (June 9, 1799):
Private advices from Syria, by way of Italy, state, that such hath been the enthusiasm of the Jews, on Buonaparte's inviting them to their promised Restoration, that numbers from all parts flock to his standard, and that he has whole regiments of them training to war in his armies.
From Hamburg, Berlin, London, Augsburg, Mannheim, Munich, and Paris -- this blockbuster news spread across Europe and beyond. Thus, Director Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès received a pertinent letter from a revolutionary called Desgranges (June 14, 1799):
Is it true that Bonaparte is now master of the Asiatic provinces of the sultan? Is it true that he has recalled the Jews of Asia and Africa back to Jerusalem? Would it not be possible to send the Jews of Europe there too? Great and dangerous [Christian] prejudices would fall with the rebuilding of the Temple of the Israelites. They are no more than brokers, so their emigration would not do any harm to our industry. Commerce would not suffer.
Desgranges urged the Revolutionary French Republic to collect three hundred million francs as a service charge for returning the Jews to Jerusalem. He was sure that Jews there would then fight for France with full enthusiasm. "This People would be an ally for us in that part of the world. The navigation of the Red Sea would be guaranteed to us."

A contemporary Berlin pamphlet portrayed a debate between a Christian theologian and a Jew. The latter is presented as saying (1799): "All the newspapers speak as one about Bonaparte's conquest of this holy place and add, almost seriously, that he conquered it for the Jews." Thus, the proclamation news was then well known to German philosopher, theologian, poet and playwright Johann Gottfried von Herder whose command of Hebrew language and literature was solid.

Herder's essay Die Bekehrung der Juden, (the conversion of the Jews) was first printed in 1802, but originally written perhaps as early as 1800. He begins by briefly referring to the pertinent 1799 written debate among David Friedländer, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Abraham Teller. Thereafter, Herder reviews some secular, practical arguments for either toleration or the return of the Jewish People to its aboriginal homeland. With regard to the latter possibility, he writes sardonically: "Good luck to them if a Messiah-Bonaparte may victoriously lead them there; good luck to them in Palestine!" These words mock both the Jews and Napoleon. But, there is absolutely nothing in Herder's remarks that doubts the truth of the proclamation story, which was universally believed in 1799.

The "restoration of the Jews" was also a recurring topic in the 1799 Gentlemen's Magazine of London. And, according to the July 17th Wiener Zeitung, the British House of Lords (June 20, 1799) heard "Lord Radner" (more likely Lord Radnor) condemn secret clubs, free masons and Jacobin societies for propagating the subversive idea of inviting the Jews to gather themselves together to restore "their chimerical Jerusalem."

Portrait of Pope Pius VI by Pompeo Batoni (1775).
French-Revolutionary hatred for the Roman-Catholic Church
led to creation of the Roman Republic (February 15, 1798).
Pope Pius VI was forcibly exiled to France where he died in August 1799.

The proclamation in Prague

Anonymous, Orthodox Jew B addressed a long letter to Count Wratislaw, head of public security (Stadthauptmann) in Habsburg Prague. B denounced Prague members of the schismatic sect of Jacob Frank for constituting a secret society with dangerous sympathies for "freedom," as advocated by the French Revolution (June 27, 1799):
The overthrow of the papal throne [February 1798] has given their [Frankist] daydreams plenty of nourishment. They say openly, this is the sign of the coming of the Messiah, since their chief belief consists of this: Sabbatai Zevi was savior, will always remain the savior, but always under a different shape. General Bonaparte's conquests gave nourishment to their superstitious teachings. His conquests in the Orient, especially the conquest of Palestine, of Jerusalem, his appeal to the Israelites is oil on their fire (sein Aufruf an die Israeliten ist Öhl auf ihrem Feuer).
Here, the specific reference to "Palestine" and Bonaparte's "appeal to the Israelites" prompts a question: Is B perhaps specifically pointing to the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20th instead of (or in addition to) the May 1799 newspaper reports of a "proclamation" to the Jews? No definite answer, because B elsewhere freely oscillates between the terms "Jews" and "Israelites."

What does B's testimony actually prove? It shows firstly that, by summer 1799, Prague Jews certainly knew about Napoleon's appeal and/or proclamation; and secondly, that informer B presumed that Count Wratislaw too was already aware of this amazing story. But, B never alleged that local Frankists were circulating copies of Bonaparte's appeal to the Israelites. Nor did B suggest that they had themselves forged such a document.

Make no mistake about the hypothesis of a 1799 Prague forgery, as recently suggested by one or more historians. Forging such fake letters in the Habsburg Empire at that time would have amounted to the crime of treason, given the "state of war" with France and the purported Jerusalem rabbi's call to arms. Pertinently, B twice over specifically said he did not think local Frankists capable of treason. Nor did the Austrian police subsequently arrest the Prague Frankists, for either serious political crimes or lesser offenses. This last fact must weigh heavily due to the tragic precedent of the Hellenic patriot Rigas, mentioned above. Directly on point, Rigas had been caught (December 1797) with three wooden chests full of revolutionary proclamations in Habsburg Trieste.

However, B did advise Count Wratislaw to regularly read Frankist mail and to search their leader's home for seditious papers on a Saturday afternoon. For this reason, these last eighty years, there has been speculation about the possibility of some sort of a link joining all three of the Frankists; the local Austrian government; and the Prague, Orthodox-Jewish family whose handwritten 1799 translation yielded the text for the 1939 German-language typescript.

If so, we must also take into account 18th-century communications. Specifically, written Napoleonic propaganda leaving Ottoman Syria on April 20th would definitely have had enough time (75 days) to reach Prague by July 4th. That was the first day that Count Wratislaw could have received B's advice, because B adds a postscript saying he held back mailing until July 4th.

So, let us provisionally accept the unproven hypothesis that, aimed at the Frankists, was a subsequent Austrian police raid or postal interception that netted those April 1799 letters alleged to be from Napoleon and the purported Jerusalem rabbi. Even in that imagined scenario, there would still be no logical reason to presume forgery rather than faithful Frankist transmission of an authentic text, truly from Napoleon in the Mideast. To the point, Kabbalists, Sabbateans and Frankists in the Ottoman Empire then focused on Napoleon and had always had contacts with Jews in Italy and other parts of Europe.

Moreover, a 1799 Frankist forgery is unlikely, because broader 18th-century Frankism was very different -- on the one hand, from B's highly colored characterization of local Frankists as stubborn Sabbateans; and, on the other hand, from the mainline French-Revolutionary concepts in the 1799 German translation, so reverentially preserved by the Orthodox-Jewish family of Prague. This conclusion is clear from a glance at the principal messages then dispatched from Frankist headquarters at Offenbach, near Frankfurt.

Handwritten in Hebrew (often in red ink), the infamous "red letters" of 1798-1800 say nothing about either Sabbatai Zevi or Napoleon, as Messiah or otherwise; contradict the French Revolution's strong anti-Catholic animus by repeatedly urging Jews to convert to Roman Catholicism; include just one incidental reference to Jerusalem, but not as destination; and spectacularly lack emphasis on return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). According to the Frankists, ancient Jerusalem would only be rebuilt at the very end of time. By sharp contrast to Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Frank and most of his followers were cool to the idea of the Jewish People going back to the Mideast. For Frank, Poland was the Promised Land.

Highlighting Jews & the "Temple of Solomon"

Months before the April 20th letter (Zuschrift) and the eleven May 1799 newspaper items about the "proclamation," the dignified phrase "la nation juive" (the Jewish People) came easily to Napoleon's pen. For example, from his Cairo headquarters, he ordained (September 7, 1798): "Sabbato Adda and Telebi di Figura are named high priests of the Jewish People," (grands prêtres de la nation juive). As the object of respect, "la nation juive" featured again in his December 19, 1798 order confirming the privileges of the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai.

In 1798, he showed respect for the Jewish People, partly in conformity with revolutionary ideology and partly because he could reasonably imagine that he might soon need some help from Mideast Jews. For example, urgently required cash might perhaps come from famously rich Jewish families like the Picciotto (Aleppo) and the Farhi (Damascus). Such a supposition rests squarely on Napoleon's track record in Italy. In spring 1796, his impoverished army there had been bankrolled with three million francs in discreet loans from Jewish financiers in Genoa. In 1797-8, part of the money for the French Army of Italy was provided by longtime papal banker, Moses Vita Coen, a Jew from Ferrara.

احمد جزار پاشا
The Bosnian Ahmet Cezzar Pasha
won great fame in Europe and the Mideast
as the local Ottoman commander who stubbornly

withstood Napoleon's 1799 siege of Acre.

In his own account of the "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon chose to refer to the Jewish agents sent to Damascus and Aleppo and to "a vague hope" that was "animating" local Jews when spring arrived in 1799. In the third person, he wrote (around 1819): "News was circulating among them that, after taking Acre, Napoleon would present himself in Jerusalem where he would reestablish the temple of Solomon." This recollection seems to be Napoleon's admission that, during the "Syrian" campaign, he already knew that some Jews regarded him to be the Messiah.

What Napoleon himself had probably been thinking back in 1799 was perhaps revealed more clearly in Paris in the year following his return from the Mideast. As First Consul of the Republic, he told the Council of State (August 16, 1800): "If I governed a nation of Jews, I would reestablish the temple of Solomon." Napoleon had there been making a broader point about governing to please the majority as "the way to recognize the sovereignty of the people." Thus, in this important democratic context, he chose to rhetorically offer posterity (alongside three other examples) the startling hypothesis of a majority Jewish country centered on the Temple in Jerusalem.

1798 Jewish peoplehood in vogue

As we have seen above, there were public-policy precedents for the initiative for the Jews which Napoleon is alleged to have made in Ottoman Syria. Along with the fascinating 1798 news of Napoleon's Mideast invasion, then widely discussed across Europe was the hypothesis of a return of the Jews to their aboriginal homeland, just as proposed by Le Breton in the April 19th number of La Décade philosophique and by Anonymous in Lettre d'un Juif (June 8th). This "Letter from a Jew to his Brethren" was also widely read in English translation, after first publication in the St. James's Chronicle of London (July 14-17, 1798). Moreover, both pieces were soon reprinted in French in London, in Paris Pendant L'Année 1798 (Paris During the Year 1798). Therein, the anti-revolutionary editor Jean-Gabriel Peltier reflected (December 1798):
Re-establishment of Jerusalem: Among the extraordinary events which have occurred in the political world at the end of the 18th century, the return of the Jews to their former homeland would not be the least marvelous. Just a short time ago, the idea would have appeared chimerical, though throughout the centuries the Jews never stopped religiously keeping that hope. Today, the possibility of this happening attracts attention, and it does not seem distant from coming to pass.
Thus, both before and after Napoleon's fleet sailed for Egypt (May 19, 1798), prominently published were some semi-official strategic points and propaganda particularly sympathetic to the idea of Jewish peoplehood and explaining how the Revolutionary French Republic could richly gain by sponsoring the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland. This same calculation appeared in Bonaparte in Cairo, a rapidly written, anonymous "current affairs" book rushed into print in Paris close to the end of 1798 or the start of 1799. There, France's intention to colonize Egypt was reaffirmed. Regarding restoration to the Jewish People (la nation juive) of "their land of origin," it was argued: "The conqueror of Egypt is too good a judge of men to misunderstand the advantages which could be derived from this people in the execution of his vast plans."

Two February 1799 letters to the Directory

The seasoned Irish revolutionary Thomas Corbet sent from Lorient in Brittany (February 17, 1799) to the principal Republican leader, Director Paul Barras, a plan for return of the Jewish People to "Palestine," after initial settlement in French Egypt. Pointing to Napoleon in Egypt and also to the wider war against England and its allies, Corbet compared the long-suffering Jewish People to the oppressed Irish and Poles. Also hoping to be free, the Jews were said to be waiting "with impatience for the time of their rebirth as a Nation," (Ils attendent avec impatience l'époque de leur rétablissement comme une Nation). Like Napoleon, Corbet was alive to the military value of Jews. Thus, he suggested enlisting Jews into French shipbuilding, the navy and the army, so that they could learn the skills needed "to repress the Syrian," (pour réprimer le Syrien). Firstly, Corbet thought that a large number of Jews in Egypt would help France by serving as "a barrier against the Arabs and the other barbarians," (une barrière contre les arabes et les autres barbares). Secondly, Corbet argued that, from this first step into French Egypt, the Jews could make a second step to Palestine. There, they might be for France "a solid pillar" (une colonne solide) of a new revolutionary order that would regenerate the Mideast in the period after the "decrepit and fallen empire of the Ottomans." Moreover, from a Protestant family, Corbet would have naturally understood the French Revolution's principled fight against the reactionary Catholic Church, for centuries prime vector for the bacillus of antisemitism.

Another reflection of the public's fascination with the Egyptian campaign was information which fellow Director Merlin de Douai got from Commissioner François, a senior official in northern France. François troubled to report a conversation with a Jew from Germany (probably meaning a French citizen who was an Ashkenaz, rather than a Sepharad). According to this Jew, Europe's Jews viewed Napoleon as the Messiah whose coming would trigger the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. The Jew also said that 1.5 million Jews were awaiting Napoleon's signal to leave for the Mideast. The counsel from Commissioner François was simultaneously strategic and skeptical (February 28, 1799):
One can derive a great deal from these people by flattering their religious prejudices. I leave it to your wisdom either to work to develop this idea if you think it of some value, or to just laugh it off as a joke.

Time, distance and Britain's Royal Navy combined to ensure that the letters from Corbet and François were then most probably unknown to Napoleon who for months on end received very little wartime news from France. But those two letters could well have been among the contemporary factors inspiring the Directory to permit Le Moniteur to authoritatively spread the extraordinary news that Napoleon had issued a proclamation to the Jews of Asia and Africa, i.e. to the Jews of the Ottoman Empire.

Tactics for wartime advantage?

The stunted imagination of antisemites automatically sees Jews as either negligible or some sort of a "problem." By contrast, as thoroughgoing opportunists, the Directors were more likely to ask themselves how they could benefit. La Décade philosophique's elite readership had already received (April 19, 1798) the impressive statistic that worldwide there were close to three million Jews, of whom up to 130,000 were said to be in the Mideast. For sure, the Directors knew that those "close to three million" Jews lived mostly in countries hostile to France. For example, there were then close to half a million Jews in the Habsburg Monarchy, which was a particularly stubborn opponent of the Revolution. Thus, publishing striking propaganda to win Jewish support for the Revolutionary French Republic was for the Directory a shrewd tactic to gain wartime advantage.

Such secularism, cynicism, and readiness to exploit were also Napoleon's hallmark. To the point, Bourrienne wrote that Napoleon was only interested in religion to the extent that it had some political utility. For his 1798 invasion of Egypt, Napoleon repeatedly told local Muslims that the French were now similar to them in religion, because the Revolution had rejected the Holy Trinity, retaining belief in just the one God, exactly as required by Islam. Less than a week before Napoleon left Cairo for France, the same theological gambit featured in his letter of peace overtures to Grand Vizier Kör Yusuf Ziyaüddin Pasha, then with the Ottoman army in Syria (August 17, 1799): "The Sublime Porte, which was the friend of France as long as that Power was Christian, waged war against her the moment that France by her religion drew herself closer to Islamic belief."

Role for a Jewish Republic?

Potential help from Jewish bankers (as noted above) was not the only practical reason that Napoleon might have had for discreetly wooing Jews, including during the 1799 "Syrian" expedition. In his own history of his war in the Mideast, the strategic importance of the Holy Land was linked to Egypt. For example, Napoleon judged that Cyrus had "protected the Jews and had their Temple rebuilt," because he was thinking about conquering Egypt from the east. Around 1819, Napoleon also wrote that Alexander the Great, similarly attacking from the east, "sought to please the Jews so that they might serve him for his crossing of the [Sinai] desert." This important strategic perspective is that of a general who in early 1799 had to mount an offensive into the Holy Land, inter alia, because it was then emerging as a staging ground for a Turkish attack on the French in Egypt.

It does not stretch the truth to say that the geopolitical logic, which Napoleon articulated around 1819, tacitly includes the converse proposition -- namely, that a sister Jewish Republic in the Holy Land could have served to guard the eastern gateway to an Egypt permanently dominated by France. Thus, during 1797, his gradually increasing intent to invade Egypt was probably the first stimulus for his early propaganda efforts aimed at the Jews of the Ottoman Empire.

Make no mistake, the Napoleon of 1796-9 famously practiced raison d'état pragmatism that was essentially non-discriminatory in its opportunistic exploitation of national feeling. Then, his overall stance towards the Jews was arguably consistent with his characteristic modus operandi towards other Peoples. This was well put by Eduard von Wertheimer who was a distinguished Austro-Hungarian diplomatic historian (1883):
Napoleon had a system of politics. He used, as a powerful weapon against the States that he wanted to fight, those of their subject nations which he thought had not yet entirely gotten over the memory of their erstwhile independence. Himself a son of the revolution, he knew better than anyone else the power and influence which the idea of freedom exercises upon mankind. Accordingly, he never missed a moment, as soon as his own aims required it, to advertise to those nations that he came to restore their freedom and independence. But for sure, little did he care about the later disappointment that he prepared for these Peoples whom he dazzled and misguided with his promises. He just dropped them as soon as they had served their purpose.


After the coup of November 1799, Napoleon was no longer a revolutionary general. As First Consul, he famously made the French Republic's peace with the Roman-Catholic Church (1801). As Emperor of the French (from 1804) and King of Italy (from 1805), he similarly sought to regulate the situation of the Jews in France and parts of Italy. For example, in May 1806, he convoked an Assembly of Jewish Notables to meet in Paris as prelude to hosting a Grand Sanhedrin in February 1807.

This extraordinary exercise was aimed at Jews, not so much as a People internationally, but rather mostly as a religious confession domestically. By 1806-7, Napoleon's principal pertinent concern was no longer Jewish self-determination in the biblical homeland, but rather how Jews, as practitioners of a distinct faith, could better fit into French State and society.

Nonetheless, accounts of Napoleon's alleged invitation to the Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) continued to echo. For example, Count Procop Lažanský, the Habsburg Governor (Statthalter) of Moravia, received from Nikolsburg a local police report claiming that some Orthodox Jews there imagined that the real reason Napoleon had called the Sanhedrin was to harness worldwide Jewish talent to stimulate France's flagging international trade (October 9, 1806):
France, therefore, wished to favor the Jews and for that reason to demand from the Turkish empire the city of Jerusalem together with the surrounding territories, in order to set up and restore the seat of the Israelite People there.

If not from the Ottoman lands then most certainly from a variety of European publications, the astonishing 1799 story that Napoleon had issued a proclamation to the Jews was widely believed at that time, and thus made its own way through history. Then rapidly rippling through Christendom and also across world Jewry, this exciting tale powerfully stimulated ancient messianic dreams. Whether factually accurate or not, the dramatic news of the proclamation permanently strengthened belief in the practical political possibility of Jewish restoration and renewal in the aboriginal homeland.


Very little historical evidence would be required to convince those who warmly welcome the idea that Napoleon issued one or more proclamations to the Jews. By contrast, those who viscerally reject the notion are unlikely to be convinced, even by a very substantial amount of evidence. The persistent reality of psychological bias is a powerful fact of life.

For the writing of history, there is no professional requirement that there must always be one completely-conclusive document, directly derived from an official archive. Historians are obliged to consider all sorts of evidence, from a wide variety of sources. Moreover, it is well known that government archives are by definition especially subject to the possibility of official censorship and manipulation, as for example already set out in the preface.

Nor are historians normally required to provide 100% ironclad proof. Rather, the minimum standard for the writing of history regularly demands carefully weighing all the evidence to determine the balance of the probabilities. Dictated by commonsense, this is the same minimum standard of proof normally employed in everyday life, journalism, politics, government, and civil litigation in common law jurisdictions.

By contrast, in a criminal trial, the prosecution is normally required to prove the accused guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." But, that very rigorous, minimum requirement of the criminal law does not regularly apply to the writing of history, where the preponderance of the evidence normally suffices. Nonetheless, it is a well-known trick of rhetoric to try to shift to some higher, minimum standard of proof for arguing against the establishment of a proposition that is strongly disliked.

Does the preponderance of the evidence objectively suggest that Napoleon likely issued one or more proclamations inviting Jews to return to their aboriginal homeland? I think so. However, the final judgment is yours to make, if you too have patiently weighed all the pertinent evidence.